Narrow escape for Japan, S. Korea get job done but China lose
SUBSTITUTE Hotaru Yamaguchi's 95th-minute winner rescued Japan and their stuttering World Cup qualifying campaign as they escaped with a 2-1 victory over Iraq yesterday.
The Blue Samurai were headed for an ignominious draw in Saitama when Yamaguchi smashed a loose ball from a corner through a forest of legs and into the Iraqi goal.
The result gave Japan their second win in three final-round qualifiers and boosted under-fire coach Vahid Halilhodzic, who has endured calls for his resignation and has suffered reported player unrest.
It also lifts Japan's hopes of reaching a sixth straight World Cup at Russia 2018 as they draw temporarily level on points with Group B pace-setters Australia and Saudi Arabia, who faced each other later last night.
Meanwhile, South Korea beat Qatar 3-2 and China lost 0-1 at home to Syria in the other two Asian matches last night.
The top two sides from two groups of six book their tickets to Russia while the two third-placed teams go into a play-off series.