Australia's World Cup hopes boosted as UAE defeat Saudi Arabia

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The surprise victory by the Emratis means Ange Postecoglou's men can qualify for Russia with a win over the Blue Samurai on Thursday

The Socceroos hopes of automatic World Cup qualification have been enhanced after UAE defeated Saudi Arabia 2-1 overnight.

It means a win against Japan in Saitama on Thursday will guarantee the green-and-gold a position in Russia.

A draw against the Blue Samurai and victory versus Thailand five days later will also be enough to send Australia through.

Goals from Ali Mabkhout and Ahmed Khalil saw the Emratis beat the Saudis to keep their slim chances of qualification alive.

The visitors had begun the tie the stronger, and they opened the scoring inside 20 minutes as midfielder Nawaf Al Abed coolly converted from the penalty spot after he had been hauled down inside the area by UAE defender Mohamed Fawzi.

The lead lasted just a minute, however, as Ali Mabkhout equalised in sublime fashion. The Al Jazira striker’s exquisite touch with the outside of his boot brought the ball down and instantly into his path in one movement, before he rifled home past goalkeeper Abdullah Al Mayouf.

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Following half time, Saudi Arabia captain Osama Hawsawi went close to restoring the Green Falcons’ advantage with a thumping header from a corner that thudded against the crossbar.

But on the hour mark it was Khalil who completed the UAE’s comeback with another superb goal for the hosts, this time a piledriver from distance that screamed past the despairing dive of Al Mayouf and into the net.

The hosts did go down to 10-men in injury time after Mahmoud Khamis was shown a second yellow card of the match, but they were able to survive the Saudi onslaught to take their World Cup destiny to next week’s final matchday.

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