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ESPN FC  By ESPN staff

Australia and Japan draw as China lose again in AFC World Cup qualifying

Mile Jedinak's penalty rescued Australia from a home 2018 AFC World Cup qualifying defeat, salvaging a 1-1 draw in Melbourne against Japan and keeping the Socceroos on course for Russia 2018.

The Japanese looked set for a smash-and-grab success after Genki Haraguchi's fifth-minute opener until Australia's captain restored parity early in the second half.

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A first half played at a snail's pace gave way to a helter-skelter second 45 minutes, allowing the Socceroos back into the Group B contest.

The Samurai Blue will rue their clumsy penalty that gifted Australia their equaliser, as scorer Haraguchi brought down Tomi Juric.  

The Socceroos were rampant in the final 20 minutes as they chased a winner, but goalkeeper Mat Ryan had to produce a smart save at the other end from Yu Kobayashi's 75th minute header. 

Australia remain a point ahead of arch rivals Japan in Group B, and still own their qualifying destiny, with six matches left on the road to Russia.

China coach Gao Hongbo resigned on Tuesday after a 2-0 defeat in Uzbekistan almost certainly ended hopes of automatic qualification to only their second World Cup finals, and their first since 2002.

The Chinese battled hard in the first half in the Group A clash before conceding a 50th-minute goal to Marat Bikmaev. Otabek Shukurov doubled the advantage for the hosts in the 85th minute.

For the Uzbeks, it's their third victory of the final round, coming after a 1-0 home defeat to Iran on Oct. 6.

"I would like to thank the players and the fans for supporting me," Gao said. "I think it is time to step down."

A first-half strike from Sardar Azmoun gave Iran a 1-0 victory over South Korea in Tehran to move to top of Group A with 10 points.

Azmoun, 21, scored his 16th goal in just his 22nd appearance for Iran, who dominated the game in front of almost 100,000 fans at the Azadi Stadium.

South Korea, aiming for a ninth successive appearance at the World Cup, struggled to threaten and are in third place in the group with seven points, two behind Uzbekistan in second place.

In Doha, Qatar picked up their first points in Group A with a 1-0 win over Syria. Hasan Al Haydos scored the only goal of the game with a penalty in the 37th minute.

Qatar, hosts of the 2022 World Cup, now have three points and climb off bottom place in the group above China. Syria are fourth with four points.

Saudi Arabia moved to the top of Group B with an emphatic 3-0 win over United Arab Emirates in Jeddah.

Fahad Al Muwallad broke the deadlock with 17 minutes remaining and shortly after Nawaf Al Abed added a second. Yahya Al-Shehri made it three in stoppage time for Bert Van Marwijk's men.

The win takes the four-time World Cup participants to 10 points, two clear of Australia in second. United Arab Emirates is fourth in the group with six points, one point behind Japan.

Four goals from striker Mohannad Abdul-Raheem gave Iraq their first points of the final round and condemned Thailand to a 4-0 defeat on neutral soil in Tehran.

It was the Southeast Asians' fourth consecutive defeat in Group B, and their heaviest of the final phase.

Mohannad, the 23-year-old Al-Zawraa forward, extinguished Thai hopes with two goals in 17 first-half minutes before adding two more in the dying stages.

Thailand, who finished with nine players due to a red card and injuries, have now conceded 10 goals in four games, scoring just one.

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