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Saudi Arabia will go to World Cup, Syria surges to playoff spot

Saudi Arabia qualifies for the World Cup for first time since 2006
Mohammad al-Sahlawi of Saudi Arabia fights for the ball with Hotaru Yamaguchi of Japan at World Cup qualifying match (Reuters)

Saudi Arabia qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 2006 by beating Japan 1-0 in Jeddah on Tuesday to claim a place at the finals in Russia next year.

The Saudis join Iran, Japan, South Korea, Brazil, Mexico, Belgium and hosts Russia in the 32-team tournament, which will take place from 14 June–15 July.

Syria took third spot in Group A – behind South Korea - to seal a playoff place because of an end game goal that led to a dramatic 2-2 draw with Iran, pushing Uzbekistan out of the playoff positions.

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Syria became the first team to score against Iran in 13 qualification matches, forcing it to go into a playoff match against the third-placed team in Group B, which has yet to be determined.

The United Arab Emirates lost their World Cup chances because of a 1-0 loss to Iraq.

In June, Iran's national football team qualified for next year's World Cup finals by beating Uzbekistan 2-0.

Iran's president Hassan Rouhani congratulated the nation and the players on clinching a place at the finals. "Your victory made all of us happy... Guys well done for the qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia," he tweeted.

The top two teams in each of Asia's two qualifying groups advance automatically to the finals while the teams in third place go through a series of playoffs.

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