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Jeddah: Substitute Fahad Al Muwallad's second-half goal ensured Saudi Arabia qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup as Group B runners-up after a narrow 1-0 win over table-toppers Japan on Tuesday night.

The visitors started brightly and Gen Shoji's header was cleared off the line by Nawaf Al Abed midway through a goalless first half at an expectant King Abdullah Sports City Stadium.

The introduction Al Muwallad at half time proved a masterstroke from Saudi coach Bert van Marwijk, as it was the Al Ittihad attacker who was the difference after the restart.

The forward first forced an outstanding save from Eiji Kawashima just before the hour mark, but there was nothing the Japanese goalkeeper could do about his second effort which fizzed past the custodian.

The win for Saudi Arabia took them ahead of Australia on goal difference and into their first FIFA World Cup since 2006 and fifth overall, while the Socceroos must settle for a place in the continental play-offs against Syria despite seeing off Thailand 2-1 earlier on Tuesday. 

Photo: AFP