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Soccer: China Held by Singapore as South Korea Saunter
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South Korea thumped Chinese Taipei 8-0 yesterday to inch closer to qualification for next year's Asian Cup finals, as China was held to an embarrassing 0-0 draw by Singapore.

The emphatic rout put South Korea within a point of making the showpiece event, to be jointly hosted by Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia, with two games left to play - a home tie against Syria followed by a trip to Iran.

Fielding a strong line-up including Premier League stars Park Ji-sung, Lee Young-pyo and Seol Ki-hyeon, Korea was 2-0 ahead within four minutes and Chinese Taipei never recovered.

Jung Jo-gook helped himself to a hat-trick while Seol Ki-Hyeon and Cho Jae-jin both scored a brace. Kim Do-heon also got on the score sheet.

South Korea, having last won the Asian Cup in 1960, now lead Group B by five points over Iran, next to play Syria.

China travelled to Singapore on a mission after only narrowly beating the Southeast Asian champions 1-0 through an injury time goal when they met in Tianjin three weeks ago.

Coach Zhu Guanghu drafted in Shao Jiayi from Energie Cottbus, Anderlecht forward Dong Fangzhuo and Sheffield United midfielder Li Tie but despite a second-half onslaught the beaten 2004 finalists failed to make a breakthrough.

To make matters worse, Shao was sent off for an off-the-ball clash with Daniel Bennet and will miss their next game. It leaves China with seven points in Group E. Iraq have six points but play the Palestinians later in the day, due to a game in hand. Singapore remains in the hunt with four points.

Australia have already made the finals and they could be joined later Wednesday by defending champions Japan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Only two teams advance from each group with head-to-head results counting as a tie-breaker if teams are point-tied.

Japan will seal their place and keep alive their hopes of becoming the first ever team to win the Asian Cup four times if they can defeat Yemen. The Japanese are currently second in their group behind Saudi Arabia, who can book their berth with a victory over struggling India in Jeddah.

Middlesbrough goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer leads Australia against Kuwait in another late match, with coach Graham Arnold picking a team packed with World Cup stars in his bid to go through the qualifying campaign unbeaten.

Other fixtures see Qatar play Bangladesh and the United Arab Emirates at home to Jordan. Victories for Qatar and UAE will see them through to the finals.

(China Daily September 7, 2006)

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