Bahrain and Uzbekistan seal final Asian Cup places
SYDNEY, Nov 16 (Reuters) - Bahrain and Uzbekistan snatched the last two available places for the 2007 Asian Cup by winning their final qualifiers on Wednesday.
Bahrain beat Kuwait 2-1 in Manama and Uzbekistan defeated Qatar 2-0 in Tashkent to complete the list of 16 nations for Asia's biggest football tournament.
In the final round of pool matches, Kazuki Ganaha scored twice as defending champions Japan defeated Saudi Arabia 3-1 to leapfrog to the top of the Group A standings and guarantee tbeing seeded for the finals.
Reza Enyati and Hossein Badamaki scored as Iran beat an understrength South Korean team 2-0 to top Group B, and Mohammad Omar's two second-half goals helped the United Arab Emirates fight off a resilient Pakistan to win 3-2 and head the Group C standings.
Australia, who had a bye in the final round after Lebanon pulled out of the qualifying tournament, finished top of Group D while Iraq topped Group E after Alwan Ahmad's second-half equaliser earned his side a 1-1 draw with China.
Qatar finished top of Group F despite losing their final match to Uzbekistan, who only needed a point to be assured of their place in the finals ahead of Hong Kong, who beat Bangladesh 2-0 in their last qualifier.
Uzbekistan took the lead when Leonid Koshelev scored after half an hour then sealed their win when former Juventus player Ilyas Zeytullaev headed into the net seven minutes after the interval.
Kuwait, Asian Cup champions in 1980, missed out on the finals for the first time since 1972 following their loss to Bahrain, who finished runners-up behind Australia in Group D.
A draw would have been enough for Kuwait to advance but they fell behind after 35 minutes when Bahrain captain Talal Yousef scored from the penalty spot.
The home side doubled their lead two minutes before the break when Yousef set up a goal for Salman Issa. Kuwait pulled one back with 20 minutes remaining when substitute Faraj Laheeb headed home but failed to grab the equaliser they needed to book a place in the finals.
The 2007 Asian Cup will be co-hosted by Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam from July 7-29. It will be the 14th edition of the tournament, which was first held in 1956.
It was held every four years with the last edition staged in China in 2004 but was brought forward to 2007 to avoid clashing with the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The four host nations automatically qualified for the finals and the remaining 12 spots were filled by Australia, Bahrain, China, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan.
The tournament draw will be made in Kuala Lumpur on Dec. 19. The Asian Football Confederation has already announced that the opening match will be played in Bangkok and the final in Jakarta.