Al Shehri header maintains unbeaten run as Saudis down Vietnam

Saudi Arabia moved a step closer to World Cup qualification as Herve Renard's side defeated Vietnam 1-0 in Hanoi on Tuesday to stay unbeaten in the final phase of Asia's preliminaries for Qatar 2022.

The win moves Saudi Arabia five points clear of second-placed Australia. (Representative Image)   -  GETTY IMAGES

Saudi Arabia moved a step closer to FIFA World Cup qualification as Herve Renard's side defeated Vietnam 1-0 in Hanoi on Tuesday to stay unbeaten in the final phase of Asia's preliminaries for Qatar 2022.

Saleh Al Shehri's 31st-minute goal separated the teams and the Saudis sit top of Group B with 16 points from six games.

Renard's team has failed to win only once, when it was held 0-0 by Australia in Sydney last week, since the start of the final phase of the qualifying tournament.

The top two finishers in the group advance automatically to the finals, while the third-placed side go into a series of playoffs for a possible fifth Asian berth.

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The Saudis were rarely troubled in the first hour by Vietnam, who have lost all of their qualifiers in the country's first appearance at this phase of the preliminaries.

Al Ittihad's Fahad Al Muwallad unlocked the Vietnam defence as early as the fourth minute, sending in a cross that Al Saleh was unable to steer home from close range. Al Muwallad's continued persistence paid off in the 31st minute, however, as the Saudis went ahead.

The winger hounded Nguyen Phong Hong Duy inside the Vietnam area and, after the defender gave up possession, Al Shehri met his team mate's cross with a looping header that Bui Tan Truong was unable to prevent from crossing the line.

Tan Truong denied Salem Al Dawsari early in the second half while, with a little over 14 minutes remaining, Al Muwallad saw his effort ruled out by the Video Assistant Referee after a foul in the build-up.

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In Group A, the United Arab Emirates pulled itself back into contention for a place in the playoffs with a victory over Lebanon as Ali Mabkhout's 85th minute penalty earned Bert van Marwijk's side its first win of the campaign. The UAE was awarded the spot kick when Abbas Asi raised his foot as Sebastian Tagliabue went to head Khalil Ibrahim's cross from the right and Mabkhout rolled the resulting penalty into the corner after sending Mostafa Matar the wrong way.

Victory moves the UAE into third place in the standings with six points from six games, one ahead of Lebanon. Iraq is due to face group leader Iran later while Syria takes on South Korea.

- Wu's late penalty earns China draw with Australia -

China's Wu Lei converted a second-half penalty to earn a 1-1 draw with Australia on Tuesday as Graham Arnold's Socceroos went a third game in a row without a win in the final round of Asia's preliminaries for next year's World Cup.

The forward sent Mathew Ryan the wrong way 19 minutes from time after VAR intervened to award the Chinese side the penalty when the ball struck James Jeggo on the arm.

Mitchell Duke had put the Australians in front seven minutes before the interval, but the draw means Arnold's team has not won since defeating Oman in October.

Australia remains in second place in Group B with 11 points from six matches but, with Japan facing Oman later on Tuesday, the Socceroos could relinquish that position by the end of the round. Japan has nine points and Oman has seven.

China, which is looking to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since making its debut at the tournament in 2002, moves onto five points but its hopes are dwindling despite the draw.

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