Football: Shehri header maintains unbeaten run as Saudis down Vietnam

Saudi Arabia defeated Vietnam 1-0 in Hanoi on Nov 16, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Saudi Arabia moved a step closer to World Cup qualification as Herve Renard's side defeated Vietnam 1-0 in Hanoi on Tuesday (Nov 16) to stay unbeaten in the final phase of Asia's preliminaries for Qatar 2022.

Saleh Al Shehri's 31st-minute goal separated the teams and the Saudis sit top of Group B with 16 points from six games.

Renard's team have failed to win only once, when they were held 0-0 by Australia in Sydney last week, since the start of the final phase of the qualifying tournament.

The win moves Saudi Arabia six points clear of the second-placed Socceroos, who face China in Sharjah later on Tuesday.

The top two finishers in the group advance automatically to the Finals, while the third-placed side go into a series of play-offs for a possible fifth Asian berth.

The Saudis were rarely troubled in the first hour by Vietnam, who have lost all of their qualifiers in the country's first appearance at this phase of the preliminaries.

Al Ittihad's Fahad Al Muwallad unlocked the Vietnam defence as early as the fourth minute, sending in a cross that Al Saleh was unable to steer home from close range.

Al Muwallad's continued persistence paid off in the 31st minute, however, as the Saudis went ahead.

The winger hounded Nguyen Phong Hong Duy inside the Vietnam area and, after the defender gave up possession, Al Shehri met his teammate's cross with a looping header that Bui Tan Truong was unable to prevent from crossing the line.

Tan Truong denied Salem Al Dawsari early in the second half while, with a little over 14 minutes remaining, Al Muwallad saw his effort ruled out by the Video Assistant Referee after a foul in the build-up.

In Group A, the United Arab Emirates pulled themselves back into contention for a place in the play-offs as Ali Mabkhout's 85th minute penalty earned Bert van Marwijk's side their first win of the campaign.

The UAE were awarded the spot kick when Abbas Asi raised his foot as Sebastian Tagliabue went to head Khalil Ibrahim's cross from the right and Mabkhout rolled the resulting penalty into the corner after sending Mostafa Matar the wrong way.

Victory moves the UAE into third place in the standings with six points from six games, one ahead of Lebanon. Iraq are due to face group leaders Iran later while Syria take on South Korea.

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