TEHRAN - Sardar Azmoun and Mehdi Taremi were on target as Iran confirmed their spot in the 2018 World Cup finals with a 2-0 victory over Uzbekistan at the Azadi Stadium Monday.

It was Iran’s sixth win from eight matches in Group A which took the table-toppers to 20 points, while South Korea are second on 13 ahead of their match against Qatar on Tuesday. Iran are still unbeaten in the third stage of qualifying and amazingly have not conceded a single goal during the campaign, thus underlining their credentials as one of Asia’s football giants.

On Monday, they recorded their second win over Uzbekistan on the road to Russia, with Rostov forward Azmoun first finding the net in the 23rd minute with a right-footed shot from the left of the box following a through ball from Alireza Jahanbaksh. Iran were clearly the dominant side in front of their home fans and could have easily emerged winners with an even more impressive scoreline but for some lacklustre finishing.

In the 48th minute Taremi drew a foul from Akmal Shorakhmedov, but Masoud Shojaei fired the resulting penalty high over the crossbar.

The Uzbeks struggled for momentum and failed to break down the famed Iranian defence, eventually conceding their second goal of the match in the 88th minute with Taremi finishing from Azmoun’s pass. Iran have played in the World Cup finals four times in the past — in 1978, 1998, 2006 and 2014 — while Uzbekistan are still seeking their first ever qualification.

Samvel Babayan’s men, who have 12 points from eight matches, are not yet out of contention for an automatic place but will have to win their remaining two matches and hope other results go in their favour. Iran join hosts Russia and five-time champions Brazil in securing a place for the tournament which runs from June 14 to July 15, 2018.

Late Syria strike dims China's World Cup hopes: Ahmad Al Salih's injury-time free kick dealt China's already faint World Cup hopes another body blow as they were held 2-2 by Syria on Tuesday. China had fought back from Syria's first-half penalty to lead 2-1 before the bearded Al Salih skilfully converted from the edge of the 'D' in the third added minute.

Marcello Lippi's China now face the unlikely prospect of making up six points and four goals in goal-difference to snatch third place and a play-off spot in Group A. Victory over war-torn Syria would have lifted China's chances after third-placed Uzbekistan went down 2-0 to Iran. Only the top two teams earn an automatic spot at next year's World Cup. Mahmoud Al Mawas put Syria ahead in the 12th minute from the penalty spot -- even after he was forced to take his kick twice for an infraction. China threatened but the clock was ticking down when Zhang Linpeng took a tumble in the box for what looked like a soft penalty, which was converted by Gao Lin on 68 minutes.

Wu Xi earned China a 2-1 lead when he found space to swing his right boot and bury a volley in the 74th minute, putting his team on course for only their second win in the group. But Salih, who had complained bitterly about China's penalty, stepped up in injury time to place his free kick past the despairing dive of goalkeeper Zeng Cheng. Syria remain in fourth place in the group, ahead of China who play Uzbekistan and rock-bottom Qatar in their last two games.

Iraq dent Japan's World Cup bid

Diminutive midfielder Mahdi Kamil's late equaliser jolted Japan's World Cup qualifying bid as they were held to an unexpected 1-1 draw with Iraq on Tuesday. The Blue Samurai seemed to be cruising to victory in neutral Tehran after Yuya Osako's first-half goal, before the 164cm (5ft 4in) Kamil poached the equaliser on 73 minutes.

The result meant Japan moved one point clear at the top of Group B but missed the chance to go three ahead of both Saudi Arabia and Australia -- their final two pool stage opponents.

With Iraq already out of the running for Russia 2018, Japan looked lively early on and they took the lead after a Keisuke Honda corner in the eighth minute. The AC Milan midfielder swung the ball towards the near post, where Cologne forward Osako rose and nodded it past goalkeeper Mohammed Kassid for his sixth goal for Japan.

Twenty minutes into the second half, Osako came desperately close to making it 2-0 when his close-range shot glanced off the post following Hiroki Sakai's pullback in the box. Japan were looking comfortable but Kamil turned the game on its head when he took advantage of some defensive disarray to score the leveller on 72 minutes.

After Alaa Abdul Zahra's slaloming run was brought to a halt, Japan failed to clear the ball and it bounced to Kamil, who gratefully slammed it home. Japan attempted to rouse themselves for a late victory charge, but it came to little apart from Honda's injury-time low drive straight to goalkeeper Kassid.

UAE score last-gasp equaliser in Thai World Cup qualifier: Ali Mabkhout's stoppage-time equaliser gave the United Arab Emirates a stay of execution but a 1-1 draw with Thailand left their World Cup bid hanging by a thread on Tuesday. The UAE were seconds from dropping out of the running for Russia 2018 when Mabkhout scored from close range after a knockdown in the third minute of added time.

It means UAE are mathematically capable of securing third place in Group B and a play-off spot, but they need big wins in their last two games and for other results to go their way. A quiet first half picked up after the break when Thailand's Mongkol Thossakrai scored from close range in the 69th minute, unleashing huge roars at a packed Rajamangala Stadium. UAE, inspired by Asian player of the year Omar Abdulrahman, fought back hard but they were unable to breach the War Elephants' defence until Mabkhout's late sucker-punch. Failure to beat bottom-placed Thailand -- after their 3-1 victory at home in October -- is a blow for UAE, a rising star of Asian football and host of the next Asian Cup in 2019.

 Former Argentina coach Edgardo Bauza took charge of the team in May, while Thailand also were also under new management after hiring Serbian Milovan Rajevac in April.