Saudi Arabia qualified for their first World Cup since 2006 with a 1-0 victory against Japan at a raucous King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah on Tuesday.
The West Asians, four-time World Cup participants, sealed second in Group B and the final automatic qualification spot at the expense of Australia, with the Asian champions losing out on goal difference. Australia must now take on Syria next month in the first of what they hope will be a series of play-offs to reach Russia.
Fahad Al Muwallad got the all-important goal for Saudi Arabia against Japan to lift his side to the win. Just after the hour, the winger, a second-half substitute, collected a neat through-ball from Nawaf Al Abed before drilling an unstoppable shot from the angle into the roof of the Japan goal.
Not long before, Al Muwallad had spurned the Saudis’ best opportunity, forcing a fantastic save from Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima when through on goal. However, he would end the encounter as the match winner.
The Saudis were already guaranteed at least a play-off spot courtesy of the UAE's defeat to Iraq in Jordan earlier in the day. They had entered the match third in the standings following Australia's 2-1 triumph at home to Thailand on Tuesday, knowing only a win against Japan would seal the second automatic qualification berth. The Japanese had clinched top spot last Thursday by defeating Australia in the penultimate round of fixtures.
Australia's play-off with Syria takes place across two legs early next month, with the winner then taking on the fourth-placed team from Concacaf in a two-legged tie in November.