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11 December 2023

Australia and South Korea reach last eight

Bahrain's Abdulla Omar, left, hoots during their AFC Asian Cup group C soccer match against Australia at Al-Sadd Stadium, in Doha, Qatar. (AP)

By Reuters

Australia and South Korea moved a step closer to a possible meeting in the Asian Cup final at the end of next week when they eased into the last eight of the tournament on Tuesday.

South Korea swept past already-eliminated India 4-1 while Australia had a tougher time seeing off Bahrain 1-0 to leave Australia as Group C winners with seven points, edging out the South Koreans from top spot on goal difference.

Bahrain finished third with three points and India bottom with none.

South Korea, seeking their first Asian title since 1960, will now play Group D winners Iran in the quarter-finals, while Australia will meet whoever finishes second in Group D -- either champions Iraq, United Arab Emirates or North Korea.

On a wet, miserable day in the Qatari capital, Australia took the lead in the 37th minute after an even opening when midfielder Mile Jedinak collected a clearance and smashed a low, bouncing right-foot shot from 25 metres past Mahmood Mansoor in the Bahrain goal.

It was the second goal of the tournament for Jedinak, who went close to doubling the advantage from a freekick move moments later but his fizzing low drive on the wet surface was palmed behind by Mansoor.

Bahrain's morale appeared to drop after the goal but they began the second half with renewed vigour and Ismaeel Abdulatif, who scored four in the 5-2 win over India on Friday, warmed the hands of Mark Schwarzer with a rasping drive from distance in the 50th minute.

Bahrain enjoyed the better of possession for much of the second period as Australia appeared content to sit back and try to hit them on the counter but the west Asians struggled to create enough clear openings.

At the Al Gharafa Stadium, South Korea had little trouble in brushing aside lowly India 4-1.

Ji Dong-won put the Koreans ahead after just six minutes and Koo Ja-cheol doubled the advantage three minutes later when he rounded the keeper to score from close range.

Sunil Chhetri sent the goalkeeper the wrong way from the penalty spot in the 12th minute but the Koreans struck right back with Ji's second of the game in the 23rd minute as the striker lifted an effort over the Indian goalkeeper.

Korea dominated the second half and could have scored at least three more goals, but were let down by some poor finishing and good defending with India keeper Subrata Paul coming to their rescue on more than one occasion.

Indian striker Bhaichung Bhutia, the country's most famous player, came on for the last 12 minutes of what will probably be his last appearance for his country after winning more than 100 caps.

Bhutia, who has nursed a calf injury for more than a year, was powerless to stop India from losing, but at least made his first appearance in Asia's top international event.

There was still time for Koreans to grab a fourth when 18-year-old substitute Son Heung-min wrapped up the scoring in the 81st minute, smashing home a left-foot shot after a superb through ball from Ja-cheol.