• KYODO, REUTERS, AFP-JIJI

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Japan lost 1-0 to Saudi Arabia in an Asian qualifier for the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup on Thursday, its second defeat in three games and a loss that put a dent in its hopes of direct qualification.

The Saudis earned their third consecutive win in the third round of Asian qualifying for the Qatar World Cup, while Japan added a second Group B loss to go along with a 1-0 defeat against Oman earlier in the competition.

A goal from substitute Firas Al Birakan in the 71st minute gave the hosts the victory at King Abdulla Sports City Stadium in Jeddah, leaving Japan with three points from three games while Saudi Arabia joined Australia atop the group with a maximum nine points.

“We got tired and lost our rhythm, that’s when they capitalized and scored,” Japan boss Hajime Moriyasu said.

He remained defiant, though, insisting the team’s hopes of reaching a seventh straight World Cup are still alive.

“If we don’t give up, I believe we can still win a ticket to the World Cup,” the 53-year-old said.

The third round has two groups of six teams, with each squad facing the others in their group twice. The winner and runner-up in each group qualifies for next year’s tournament in the Middle East directly, and the two third-placed teams will face each other at home and away in another round for a place in the tournament.

Japan, which is ranked 26th, Oman and China each have three points in Group B. Vietnam remains winless and sits at the bottom of the group with no points.

Samurai Blue suffered a shock upset at home against Oman in their opening Group B match early last month before beating China 1-0 in Qatar.

The Saudis, managed by Frenchman Herve Renard, won 3-1 over Vietnam in Riyadh and 1-0 away to Oman in their earlier group games.

Moriyasu’s Japan squad must regroup quickly before its next qualifier against Australia at Saitama Stadium on Tuesday.

Australia defeated Oman 3-1 in Doha to secure an 11th straight win in qualifying for Qatar 2022, breaking the record for consecutive victories in the same campaign which it had shared with Germany, Spain and Mexico.

The Socceroos took the lead through Awer Mabil’s ninth-minute goal. That, however, was canceled out by Rabia Al Mandhar, before second-half goals from Martin Boyle and Mitchell Duke helped the Australians maintain their perfect qualifying record.

In Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, Wu Lei struck twice, including an injury time winner, as China beat Vietnam 3-2 for its first win after two straight losses.

The Espanyol striker kept China’s hopes of qualifying alive with his goal in the fifth minute of added time after Vietnam rallied from a two-goal deficit.

In Group A on Thursday, Tottenham Hotspur star Son Heung-min scored an 89th-minute winner to give South Korea a nervy 2-1 home win over Syria in Ansan, South Korea.

The star forward saved the Koreans from what would have been a deeply disappointing draw. South Korea is second in the group with two wins and a draw in three matches.

The home team dominated the first half but the two sides went to the break goalless after Syria goalkeeper Ibrahim Alma made several good stops.

The tide shifted in favor of the home team in the 48th minute, when Hwang In-beom struck the ball with his left foot from outside the box and sent it into the opposite corner to open the scoring.

It looked as though the match would end in a 1-0 win for Son and his side, but Syria’s Omar Khrbin stunned the South Koreans with an equalizer in the 84th minute.

Son then stepped forward when his side needed him most, striking the winner from close range.

Elsewhere, Iran edged the UAE 1-0 to remain perfect with three wins in as many matches as Mehdi Taremi scored the all-important goal in the 70th minute in Dubai, as the Iranians remained on top of Group A with nine points.

Iraq and Lebanon played out a goalless draw at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.

The result meant both teams are without a win in their three matches so far.

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