HONG KONG- South Korea moved to the verge of qualification for November's World Cup finals in Qatar on Thursday as Cho Gue-sung's goal earned Paulo Bento's side a 1-0 win over Lebanon in Sidon.
The Koreans, missing injured duo Son Heung-min and Hwang Hee-chan, were made to work for a win that moves them on to 17 points from seven games in Group A of Asia's preliminaries.
That points tally means the Koreans will be confirmed as World Cup qualifiers if the United Arab Emirates do not defeat Syria in their meeting in Dubai later on Thursday and are at least certain of a place in the playoffs.
Cho scored the game's only goal when he latched onto Hwang Ui-jo's low curling cross from the left, the forward steering the ball home from close range.
Lebanon were far from outplayed, however, with brothers Alexander and Felix Melki both hitting the woodwork for Ivan Hasek's side.
In Group B, Australia thrashed Vietnam 4-0 in Melbourne but remain in third place in the standings after second-placed Japan downed a poor China side 2-0 at Saitama Stadium.
The Socceroos took a two-goal lead into the interval through a header from Jamie Maclaren and a deft finish by Tom Rogic before the Vietnamese fought to find a way back into the game in the second half.
But a lobbed effort from Craig Goodwin in the 72nd minute and Riley McGree's shot from distance secured the points, even with coach Graham Arnold forced to watch from isolation after a positive COVID-19 test.
"I can't be more pleased with the energy," said assistant coach Rene Meulensteen. "We knew it was going to be a challenge because that's what international football is about."
Japan held on to second spot with victory over a Chinese side that saw their hopes of a playoff place all-but extinguished.
Yuya Osako gave the Japanese the lead in the 13th minute from the penalty spot, giving goalkeeper Yan Junling little chance with a firmly taken effort after Junya Ito's cross had been handled by Wang Shenchao.
Japan were rarely troubled by a Chinese side being led by new coach Li Xiaopeng for the first time, with the visitors struggling to gain possession outside their own half.
Ito added a deserved second goal in the 61st minute when he met substitute Yuta Nakayama's pinpoint cross from the left with a header that flew into the bottom corner.
Only the top two nations in each of Asia's two groups are guaranteed to advance to the World Cup, with the third-placed finishers facing off in a playoff for the right to meet a South American side for a possible fifth Asian berth in Qatar.
(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Toby Davis) ((Michael.Church@thomsonreuters.com; +852 9023 4874;))