Chinese keep World Cup qualifying hopes alive despite Korea defeat

Lee Kang-in (C) of South Korea
Lee Kang-in (C) of South Korea celebrates with teammates Joo Min-kyu (L) and Son Heung-min (R) after scoring the team's first goal during the FIFA World Cup Asian second qualifier Group C match between South Korea and China at Seoul World Cup Stadium on June 11, 2024 in Seoul, South Korea.

China squeezed into the third round of Asia's preliminaries for the 2026 World Cup by the narrowest of margins on Tuesday (June 11) despite slipping to a 1-0 loss at the hands of South Korea in Seoul.

Indonesia, North Korea, Kuwait and Kyrgyzstan also confirmed their progress to the next round with the Chinese qualifying as runners-up in Group C behind the South Koreans after Thailand could only register a 3-1 victory over Singapore.

Needing to win by three clear goals, or to score at least four with a two-goal victory margin to climb above the Chinese in the standings, Masatada Ishii's side fell agonisingly short of a spot in the draw for the next round on June 27.

Suphanat Mueanta put Thailand in front eight minutes before the break but Thailand-based forward Ikhsan Fandi levelled 12 minutes after the restart for the Singaporeans.

A frantic Thailand pushed forward as time ticked down with Poramet Arjvirai and Jaroensak Wonggorn scoring in the last 11 minutes to take their side closer to their target, but ultimately the War Elephants fell short.

The Chinese had earlier lost in Seoul World Cup Stadium when Paris St Germain winger Lee Kang-in scored from close range in the 61st minute to leave Branko Ivankovic and his players sweating on the outcome of the game in Bangkok.

Indonesia, meanwhile, confirmed their progress to the third round for the first time with a comfortable 2-0 win in Group F over the Philippines at a buoyant Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta.

Netherlands-born midfielder Thom Haye put the home side in front 32 minutes into the game when he bent a perfectly judged right foot shot into the top corner of Kevin Mendoza's goal.

The victory was secured through a glanced header by Rizky Ridho in the 56th minute that gave the unprotected Mendoza little chance as Indonesia confirmed a second-place finish behind already-qualified Iraq.

Japan cruised to a 5-0 win over Syria in Hiroshima that fatally damaged the hopes of Hector Cuper's side, who were overtaken in Group B by North Korea as a result of Ri Jo Guk's hat-trick in a 4-1 win over Myanmar in Vientiane.

Kuwait finished second in Group A when Eid Al-Rashidi scored in the 81st minute to hand Afghanistan a 1-0 loss, with the Gulf state taking the runners-up spot behind Asian champions Qatar, who extinguished India's hopes with a 2-1 win in Al-Rayyan.

Kyrgyzstan confirmed their progress with a 1-1 draw with Group D winners Oman, who had already sealed their spot in the third round as Eldiyar Zarypbekov saw his 19th minute opener cancelled out by Abdul Aziz Khalfan's deflected strike.

The draw for the next round will feature 18 nations, including regular World Cup qualifiers Japan, South Korea, Australia, Iran and Saudi Arabia, who had all secured their berths ahead of Tuesday's group matches.

Uzbekistan, Jordan, Bahrain and Palestine have also qualified for the third phase, which will see teams compete for six of the continent's eight guaranteed spots in the finals in the United States, Mexico and Canada.

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