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South Korea's Son Heung-min celebrates scoring their first goal with Joo Min-kyu during the AFC Qualifiers Group C match against Thailand at Seoul World Cup Stadium on Thursday. Image Credit: Reuters

Seoul: Son Heung-min scored but South Korea were held 1-1 at home by Thailand in a World Cup qualifier on Thursday in their first match since the sacking of Jurgen Klinsmann.

It was also the first game since revelations about a bust-up between skipper Son and Paris Saint-Germain’s Lee Kang-in at the Asian Cup, where South Korea lost 2-0 to Jordan in the last four.

Son was left with a dislocated finger in the fracas at their team hotel in Qatar on the eve of the semi-final.

Lee started on the bench on Thursday but came on soon after Thailand grabbed a shock equaliser in Seoul, with Suphanat Mueanta firing in from close range just after the hour.

Despite the stalemate, South Korea are still on course to reach the next stage of qualifying for 2026 and sit top of their group with seven points from three matches.

With under-23 coach Hwang Sun-hong taking temporary charge following the dismissal as coach of the German Klinsmann, the hosts took the lead three minutes before half-time.

Spurs attacker Son inevitably scored it, turning in from close range to put South Korea on the way to a third qualifying win from as many games.

A capacity crowd at the 66,000-seater Seoul World Cup Stadium was stunned into silence on 61 minutes when Suphanat was on hand and onside to rifle past exposed goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo.

South Korea had several chances to score the winner, but they failed to take them against an increasingly overworked Thailand defence.

The two sides meet again on Tuesday in Bangkok.

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Japan's Takumi Minamino and Koki Machida in action with North Korea's Yu-Song Kim during their AFC Qualifiers Group B match against North Korea at Japan National Stadium, Tokyo, on Thursday Image Credit: Reuters

Japan win over North Korea

Ao Tanaka’s goal after two minutes gave Japan a nervy 1-0 win over a spirited North Korea in Tokyo on Thursday.

Unmarked in the centre of the box, Tanaka beat exposed goalkeeper Kang Ju Hyok and put Japan a step closer to the 2026 World Cup.

They have three wins from three in their group and are firmly on course to reach the next stage of qualifying.

The victory was an unconvincing but welcome return to winning ways for Japan after a disappointing Asian Cup.

Soon after taking the lead Daizen Maeda shot wide as Japan threatened to run riot. Hidemasa Morita and Ritsu Doan also had chances for the hosts.

North Korea were much livelier in the second half.

They were cheered on by a contingent of supporters from Japan’s 300,000-strong ethnic Korean community, waving flags and with their faces painted.

Han Kwang Song’s left-footed shot hit the post before Jong Il Gwan slotted the ricochet into the net, but he was ruled offside.

Japan were playing for the first time since their quarter-final exit at the Asian Cup, where they lost 2-1 to Iran.

They are scheduled to play the return leg against North Korea on Tuesday in Pyongyang, Japan’s first game there since 2011.

Japan are missing Brighton winger Kaoru Mitoma and Arsenal’s Takehiro Tomiyasu, both injured.

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Lebanon's Omar Chaaban in action during the qualifier match against Australia and Lebanon at CommBank Stadium in Sydney on Thursday. Image Credit: AFP

Australia beat Lebanon

Australia’s Scottish connection helped them to a 2-0 victory over a determined Lebanon on Thursday to take a step closer to the 2026 World Cup.

St Mirren midfielder Keanu Baccus struck early in the first half before Hearts defender Kye Rowles added a second on 54 minutes in front of a near-full house of 27,000 at Sydney’s Parramatta Stadium.

It was their first international goals and kept Australia unbeaten on the road to the 48-team World Cup in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

With three wins from three, they top Asian Group I after previously putting seven unanswered goals past Bangladesh before a 1-0 away win against Palestine.

They face Lebanon — who drew 0-0 against both Palestine and Bangladesh — again in Canberra next week with victory ensuring they progress to the next stage of qualifying.

“It’s very satisfying. Obviously the most important thing is a win and the clean sheet,” said Australian midfielder Connor Metcalfe.

“But we can do a lot better. We were too sloppy and too many easy mistakes, but happy with the win.”

A record eight direct spots and one intercontinental playoff berth are at stake for Asian Football Confederation sides, from nine groups of four.

The top two from each group go through to the final qualifying round for 2026.

Back in action for the first time since their disappointing quarter-final exit at the Asian Cup in Qatar, Baccus opened the scoring for Australia with a stroke of luck.

After intercepting a pass, he ran down the right and whipped in a looping cross that curled past flummoxed Lebanon goalkeeper Mostafa Matar, who seemed to think it was going wide.

Both sides created half-chances as the match opened up, but they struggled to capitalise, with Australia taking a 1-0 lead into the break.

But Rowles made no mistake nine minutes into the second half, blasting home a half-volley when the ball fell to him after bouncing around in the box following a corner.