World Cup Qualifying Round-up: Iran and South Korea seal their places in this year’s World Cup in Qatar


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In what was a catch-up window due to previous postponements because of the pandemic, several teams made the most of the winter action and took major steps towards participation in November’s World Cup.

None were more successful than Iran and South Korea, who became the 14th and 15th nations to qualify for the showcase event.

In CONCACAF, it was Canada who had the most successful window, claiming nine points to leave them on the brink of just a second-ever World Cup appearance.

Meanwhile in South America, it was more of a case of eliminations as what was a ten-team league is now ultimately down to five with Brazil and Argentina already having qualified and Paraguay, Bolivia and Venezuela all now out of contention.

Let us begin in Asia as we take a look back on another thrilling week of action.


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It was in Tehran that Iran confirmed their qualification for a third consecutive World Cup. Porto forward Mehdi Taremi scored the winner in a 1-0 victory over Iraq to seal another finals appearance for Team Melli.

South Korea picked up a 1-0 win over Lebanon to leave themselves nicely poised before the second game of the window.

The UAE kept the South Korean’s honest with a 2-0 win at home to Syria to keep their own faint hopes alive.

Those hopes would be dashed just five days later however as South Korea booked their finals place with a 2-0 win over Syria in Dubai and maintains their record of appearing at every World Cup since 1986. Iran’s 1-0 triumph over the UAE rendered the result immaterial anyway as the Emirates could now no longer qualify automatically.

The Syrians are the only team in the group officially eliminated and responded by sacking coach Valeriu Tita. Iraq did similar, dismissing Serbian manager Zeljko Petrovic. They still hold faint hopes of a play-off despite failing to win a game so far. They must beat the UAE in their next game in March to stand any chance.

Over in Group B, there is a little bit more tension with none of the sides earning automatic qualification thus far. Matchday seven saw the top three all claim home victories over the lesser lights in the group with Australia thrashing Vietnam 4-0, Japan seeing off China 2-0 and leaders Saudi Arabia earning a narrow 1-0 win over Oman.

Matchday eight proved to be much more decisive, however. Takumi Minamino was on the scoresheet as Japan closed to the gap to within a point of the Saudis with a 2-0 home win.

This left the door open for Australia to join the Japanese and leave a one-point gap between all three sides. Graham Arnold’s men will be kicking themselves however for conceding a late equaliser to Oman in Muscat that saw two precious points dropped.

Australia will now need to beat Japan at home next up and most likely do the same in Saudi Arabia if they are to qualify without the need for a play-off. They do have that option to fall back on though as Oman are now eliminated.

Vietnam also picked up their first win of the campaign as they secured a 3-1 victory over China 3-1 in Hanoi.


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Canada are now just one win away from a first World Cup appearance since 1986 following three victories in a brilliant week.

‘Les Rouges’ began the window by defeating winless Honduras thanks to a goal from star striker Jonathan David. The traditional big two of the USA and Mexico kept up the pressure with wins over El Salvador and Jamaica respectively.

Bryan Ruiz grabbed the winner as Costa Rica aimed to move closer to a play-off spot by defeating Panama.

It would be in matchday 10 where John Herdman’s Canadian side would take the biggest strides. An early Cyle Larin goal sent them on their way to a vital 2-0 victory over the USA to leave the nation ecstatic and leave fans of the USMNT enraged.

Panama got back on track by edging out Jamaica while El Salvador piled the misery on Honduras with a 2-0 win.

Costa Rica held Mexico to a crucial goalless draw in an empty Azteca Stadium to claim what could be a huge point.

In the final matchday of the break, Canada’s match in San Salvador almost did not go ahead due to the El Salvador players threatening to strike over unpaid bonuses. The strike was averted and David claimed another goal to make it a memorable week for the Canadians.

It was also memorable for slightly different reasons in Minnesota as the USA claimed a 3-0 victory over Honduras in freezing conditions. Two Honduran players had to be treated for hypothermia while fans saw their beers freeze in the stadium. Perhaps more thinking is required for the federation next time when determining where to stage the games.

Raul Jimenez scored a penalty as Mexico beat Panama while Joel Campbell scored the only goal in Costa Rica’s victory in Jamaica. ‘Los Ticos’ are now just a point behind Panama following an excellent window as they chase a play-off match with the best team from Oceania.

For Canada, victory over the Costa Ricans in March will bring about the moment they have been waiting 36 years for. The USA and Mexico look poised to join them while it appears to be a straight shootout between Panama and Costa Rica.


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Onto South America, where nobody has yet joined Brazil and Argentina but there were some eliminations taken care of.

Ecuador were probably the biggest victors of the window, guaranteeing themselves at least a play-off spot against the play-off winners from Asia thanks to two draws.

A bad-tempered clash with Brazil ended in a 1-1 draw while fellow confirmed finalists Argentina claimed a 2-1 triumph in Chile.

Edison Flores grabbed a vital late winner as Peru claimed a massive 1-0 win in Colombia to go fourth. Uruguay would keep the pressure on with a 1-0 win in Paraguay.

Salomon Rondon notched a hat-trick as Venezuela prolonged Bolivia’s wait for a first away victory since 1994 in the qualifiers.

It was all to play for then going into the second match of the window but this is where some dreams were sadly ended.

Philippe Coutinho scored a cracking goal as Brazil thrashed Paraguay 4-0 to end their hopes while Chile won 3-2 in Bolivia to leave Bolivia waiting another four years for an appearance on the biggest stage.

Luis Suarez became the top goalscorer in CONMEBOL qualifying history in Uruguay’s 4-1 win over Venezuela to ensure another elimination for the visitors. The hosts meanwhile stole a march on Peru and climbed into the automatic places following the Peruvian’s 1-1 draw with Ecuador.

The draw did at least deny Ecuador automatic qualification for now.

Lautaro Martinez scored the winner for Argentina which put a huge dent to Colombia’s chances of a third consecutive World Cup appearance.

It is all set up for a dramatic two matchdays in March as we find out who will join the traditional giants. Ecuador only need a win in Paraguay in their next game to ensure they join them. There are sure to be more twists and turns to come.

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