AL AIN, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia’s hopes of automatic qualification for the 2018 World Cup were hit by a 2-1 loss to the United Arab Emirates in Asian Group B on Tuesday.
Ahmed Khalil struck a long-range winner on the hour to keep fourth-placed UAE in with a faint chance of qualifying for Russia.
Only the top two in the two Asian groups are guaranteed places at the tournament in June.
Saudi Arabia is second in Group B but Australia now has a game in hand and is only behind Bert van Marwijk’s team on goal difference. Japan, which holds a one-point lead in the group, hosts third-placed Australia on Thursday. Saudi Arabia then plays Japan in their group finale next Tuesday.
The UAE moved to within three points of Saudi Arabia and Australia, but it has an inferior goal difference to those teams heading into next Tuesday’s game against Iraq.
At the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in the UAE city of Al Ain, Nawaf Al Abid put Saudi Arabia in front from the penalty spot in the 20th minute after he was fouled by Mohamed Fawzi. But Ali Mabkhout leveled inside a minute for the UAE, who finished with 10 men after Mahmoud Al Hammadi was shown a second yellow card in stoppage time.
The two third-placed teams from both Asian groups will contest a playoff in October to determine who goes into an intercontinental qualifier against the fourth-placed team in qualifying from CONCACAF, the North and Central America and the Caribbean confederation.
The UAE last qualified for the World Cup in 1990, while Saudi Arabia was last on football’s biggest stage in 2006.
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