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World Cup-bound Saudi Arabia fires coach Edgardo Bauza

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) World Cup-bound Saudi Arabia has fired coach Edgardo Bauza nine days before the draw.

The Saudi Arabia Football Federation announced the Argentine coach’s exit after only five friendlies in charge. The team lost to Portugal and Bulgaria this month.

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Bauza has been fired twice this year by teams in the World Cup lineup. He lost the Argentina job in April, after eight months in charge, when the two-time World Cup champions risked missing out on qualification.

In September, Bauza was appointed by Saudi Arabia to replace Bert van Marwijk, who was fired despite leading the team to its first World Cup since 2006.

Saudi Arabia joins Australia without a coach for the World Cup draw in Moscow on Dec. 1.

And then there were 8: South Korea, Saudi Arabia qualify for World Cup

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Saudi Arabia and South Korea have joined Iran and Japan in the Asian Football Confederation’s delegation to Russia, leaving Syria and Australia to duel for the intercontinental playoff spot and six other nations on the outside of football’s biggest tournament.

[ MORE: New Zealand advances to playoff ]

Lowly Thailand finished with two points but ultimately stands as Australia’s automatic qualifying spoiler, while UAE, Qatar, China, and Iraq were eliminated before the start of play. Uzbekistan also misses out after failing to pass Syria or South Korea.

Uzbekistan 0-0 South Korea

Neither side won over the course of their final three qualifiers, costing the hosts a place in Russia. South Korea was able to advance with the point, and the Taegeuk Warriors will play in their ninth-straight World Cup.

Saudi Arabia 1-0 Japan

Fahad Al-Muwallad’s 63rd minute goal helped the Green Falcons to their first World Cup since 2006.

Australia 2-1 Thailand

The Socceroos could not make up two goals of difference on Saudi Arabia, and will face Syria for the chance to play CONCACAF’s fourth-place team in the interconfederation playoff. Thailand’s goal differential of minus-18 have Australia hope, even on the road, but tournament leading scorer Tomi Juric and Hertha Berlin’s Mathew Leckie were the only goal scorers for the Socceroos.

Iran 2-2 Syria

A win against already-qualified Iran would’ve put Syria into the World Cup ahead of South Korea, and the visitors had a 1-0 lead early only to need a stoppage time goal from Al Ahli striker Omar Al Somah to move ahead of Uzbekistan for third place in Group B.

World Cup qualifying: State of play in the Asian groups

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Iran and Brazil, along with host Russia, are the only teams so far assured of a place at the 2018 World Cup. Three more Asian teams will secure their place in the tournament draw in December over the next week as qualifying resumes.

With Iran already securing qualification from Group A, South Korea and Uzbekistan are vying for the second automatic qualifying spot. In Group B, there is a three-way tussle between Japan, Saudi Arabia and Asian Cup champion Australia to finish in the top two.

The two third-place teams from each group will contest a playoff in October to determine who goes into an intercontinental qualifier against the fourth-place team in qualifying from CONCACAF, the North and Central America and the Caribbean confederation.

GROUP A

After all the upheaval from two recent losses that cost Uli Stielike his job as coach, South Korea has a one-point cushion over third-place Uzbekistan and can secure a place in Russia with victory at home against unbeaten Iran on Thursday – if Uzbekistan loses in China. Any other combination of results will leave the second spot up for grabs when the South Koreans travel to Tashkent five days later for its final group game.

South Korea has qualified for the last eight World Cups, and former South Korea midfielder Shin Tae-yong has taken over as coach with the sole aim of extending that streak to nine.

Fourth-place Syria, which is four points behind South Korea and still has a chance to qualify automatically, will play Qatar on neutral territory in Malaysia on Thursday. China and 2022 World Cup host Qatar each need two wins from the last two matches to stay in the mix.

GROUP B

Second-place Saudi Arabia kicks off match day nine at the fourth-place United Arab Emirates in a strong position to return to the World Cup for the first time since 2006.

Japan leads the group with 17 points, a one-point buffer over Australia and Saudi Arabia – countries it will meet in its last two games in Saitama and Jeddah, five days apart – and seven points clear of the UAE.

The Japanese could secure qualification for a sixth consecutive World Cup with a win over Australia, but two losses or two draws over the six-day span could see them slip to third.

Unbeaten Australia will be without injured captain Mile Jedinak. Tim Cahill, a veteran of three World Cups and 100 games for Australia, is hoping his team can finally produce its first win in Japan since 1969.

“I’m very focused on being prepared and making sure we are ready for such a big occasion,” Cahill said.

Thailand hosts Iraq on Thursday in a game between two teams which have no chance of making it to Russia.

More AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Saudis apologize after minute’s silence snub in Australia

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ADELAIDE, Australia (AP) The Saudi Arabian Football Federation has apologized for “any offense caused” after its players declined to participate in a minute’s silence in memory of last weekend’s deadly attacks in London before the start of a World Cup qualifying match against Australia.

When the stadium announcer called for a minute’s silence Thursday night to honor the eight victims, including two Australians, the 11 Australian players on the field lined up near the center circle with arms on their teammates’ shoulders.

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Their opponents from Saudi Arabia stayed on the other side, most seemingly ignoring the gesture, which sparked an immediate backlash. Video appeared to show one Saudi player bending down to tie his shoe lace during the minute of silence.

The Saudi federation statement said it “deeply regrets and unreservedly apologizes for any offense caused.”

“The players did not intend any disrespect to the memories of the victims or to cause upset to their families, friends or any individual affect by the atrocity,” the statement said. “The Saudi Arabian Football Federation condemns all acts of terrorism and extremism and extends its sincerest condolences to the families of all the victims.”

Australia won the match 3-2 to move level on points with Saudi Arabia and Japan atop the qualifying group with two games remaining.

[ MORE: Iniesta to NYCFC? ]

Football Federation Australia said the Saudi team management knew about the plan to hold a minute’s silence before the match and had indicated that the players wouldn’t participate.

“Both the (Asian Football Confederation) and the Saudi team agreed that the minute of silence could be held,” the FFA said in a statement. “The FFA was further advised by Saudi team officials that this tradition was not in keeping with Saudi culture and they would move to their side of the field and respect our custom whilst taking their own positions on the field.”

Typically, representative of soccer’s world governing body, FIFA, meet with officials from both teams and the referee a day before a World Cup qualifier to discuss game-related protocol, including plans for reflections such as the minute’s silence.

There was no immediate response from FIFA or the Asian Football Confederation.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was asked early Friday about the incident but said while the matter had been raised with him, he had not seen video.

“The whole world, the whole free world is united in condemnation of that terrorist attack and terrorism generally,” Turnbull said, without directly referencing the match. “Everybody, everyone should be united in condemnation with the terrorists and love, and sympathy and respect for the victims and their families.”

Senior Australian Labor politician Anthony Albanese described it as “a disgraceful lack of respect.”

“There is no excuse here. This isn’t about culture,” he said. “This is about a lack of respect.”

After the match, Australia, Saudi Arabia and Japan all had 16 points in qualifying Group B, although Japan had a game in hand.

Tomi Juric scored two goals and Tom Rogic added the third for Australia in Adelaide.

Salem Al Dawsari and Mohammed Al Sahlawi scored for the Saudis, who are led by former Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk.

Australia plays at Japan on Aug. 31 and hosts Thailand on Sept. 5 in its remaining matches. In between, the Australians will play at the Confederations Cup in Russia.

The top two countries in the six-team group qualify for next year’s World Cup in Russia, with the third-place country advancing to a playoff.

Saudi Arabia, Australia involved in controversial moment’s silence (video)

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A moment of silence to honor victims of last week’s London terror attacks, including two Australians, has caused a major controversy.

The minute’s silence was reportedly agreed between Australia and Saudi Arabia before a World Cup qualifier on Thursday.

[ MORE: Iniesta to NYCFC? ]

The Socceroos lined up and linked together around the half-circle, while the Green Falcons did not take part in the tribute in any traditional sense.

According to the Associated Press:

“Both the (Asian Football Confederation) and the Saudi team agreed that the minute of silence could be held,” the Australian federation said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. “The FFA was further advised by Saudi team officials that this tradition was not in keeping with Saudi culture and they would move to their side of the field and respect our custom whilst taking their own positions on the field.”

The move has caused uproar, though it’s unclear whether the Saudi Arabian team misinterpreted the tribute.

Here’s a report from Australia: