China stay alive as big guns Australia, Japan march on
March 24 2016 10:01 PM
China’s players celebrate after scoring a goal during a 2018 World Cup qualifying match against Maldives in Wuhan yesterday. (AFP)


A Jiang Ning hat-trick kept China’s faint World Cup hopes alive as big guns Australia and Japan blasted towards Russia 2018 with convincing wins yesterday.
Jiang, who plays at Hebei China Fortune alongside Ezequiel Lavezzi and Gervinho, powered China to a 4-0 home victory as they chase Group C’s second spot in the penultimate round of games.
Australia had little trouble beating Tajikistan 7-0, with Nathan Burns and Tom Rogic both scoring twice, while Leicester City’s Shinji Okazaki sparked Japan’s 5-0 win over Afghanistan.
Lee Jeong-Hyeop spared already-qualified South Korea’s blushes with an injury-time winner as the hosts laboured to a 1-0 victory over Lebanon in Ansan.
And former Tottenham Hotspur coach Harry Redknapp’s interim stint with Jordan got off to a flying start with an 8-0 win against an outclassed Bangladesh in Amman. Jiang settled any Chinese nerves in Wuhan when he struck in just the third minute, before the lead was quickly doubled by Yang Xu in the 12th.
Jiang’s goals in the 84th minute and injury time added gloss for China, who nevertheless look out of the running for the next round ahead of Tuesday’s Group C finale against unbeaten Qatar.
Eight group winners and the four best-performing second-placed teams will reach the third round of World Cup qualifying, and seal a spot at the 2019 Asian Cup into the bargain.  
In Adelaide, Queens Park Rangers midfielder Massimo Luongo set Australia on their way to what was the Asian champions’ biggest win under coach Ange Postecoglou. Luongo struck with just two minutes on the clock before Australian skipper Mile Jedinak of Crystal Palace added a penalty to put the hosts 2-0 up. Another penalty by substitute Mark Milligan and second-half doubles from Burns and Rogic completed a comfortable outing for Australia, who now go into a top-of-the-table clash with Redknapp’s Jordan.
“Scoring that early goal really helped, and we kept up the pressure in the second half,” Postecoglou said.
Redknapp went one better than his Australian opposite number as Jordan put eight past Bangladesh, propelled by a first-half hat-trick from Hamza Al Dardour.
Meanwhile Japan needed Okazaki, one of the men behind Leicester’s inspirational English Premier League season, to shake them out of their torpor after a sluggish start in Saitama. Okazaki handed Japan a barely deserved lead two minutes before half-time before Hiroshi Kiyotake, Maya Yoshida and Mu Kanazaki joined him on the scoresheet, along with an Afghan own goal.
Group B:
Australia 7 (Luongo 2, Jedinak 13-pen, Milligan 57-pen, Burns 67, 87, Rogic 70, 72) Tajikistan 0
Jordan 8 (Al Dardour 7, 23, 40, Deeb 29-pen, Al Rawashdeh 32, Faisal 63, Al Naber 82, Samir 90+2-pen) Bangladesh 0
Group C: China 4 (Jiang 3, 84, 90+1, Yang 12) Maldives 0
Group D: Iran 4 India 0
Group E: Japan 5 (Okazaki 43, Kiyotake 58, Muhammad 64 OG, Yoshida 74, Kanazaki 77) Afghanistan 0
Group F: Vietnam 4 (Le Cong Vinh 8, 90+1, Nguyen VT 29, 42) Taiwan 1 (Wu 7)
Group G: South Korea 1 (Lee Jeong-Hyeop 90+3) Lebanon 0.

Singapore’s German coach bows out after poor stint
Singapore’s German coach Bernd Stange has confirmed he will be stepping down after a lacklustre stint that leaves the football-mad city-state at 148th in the world rankings.
The 68-year-old said the World Cup qualifier against Afghanistan next week will be his last game in charge, local media reported yesterday.
East Germany-born Stange was brought in by the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) in 2013 to replace Serbian Raddy Avramovic, who resigned after leading Singapore to three championships in the AFF Suzuki Cup in 2004, 2007 and 2012. “As you know now I asked the FAS in January not to plan with me after the Afghanistan match,” Stange told journalists ahead of a friendly against Myanmar yesterday.
The Lions will head to Tehran for the Afghan clash on Tuesday. The FAS told AFP it will announce a decision the future of the national coach only in April.
“Coach Bernd and his technical team are now focused on the National Team’s preparations for the upcoming World Cup 2018/Asian Cup 2019 Qualifying match against Afghanistan,” it said.  
After his appointment, Stange quickly came under fire for allegedly favouring younger players and forcing the Southeast Asian minnows to adopt a fast-paced passing game to limited effect.
Singapore crashed out in the group stage when it hosted the AFF Suzuki Cup in 2014. The team’s performance in the World Cup qualifiers has also come under scrutiny, taking 10 points from a possible 21.

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