South Korea's Son Heung-min, center left, makes an attempt to...

South Korea's Son Heung-min, center left, makes an attempt to score during the second round of the Asian qualifier group C match for 2026 FIFA World Cup between South Korea and China at Seoul World Cup Stadium in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, June 11, 2024. Credit: AP/Lee Jin-man

China kept its 2026 World Cup hopes alive by the narrowest of margins despite a 1-0 loss to South Korea on Tuesday in Asian qualifying.

China advanced to the third qualification round because Thailand, needing to beat Singapore by three goals, only won 3-1.

South Korea finished the second round of continental qualifying atop Group C and remains on course for an 11th straight World Cup appearance.

Six of the 18 Asian teams in the next stage will secure automatic spots at the World Cup. Two more teams will earn direct entry to the World Cup from a fourth stage in Asian qualifying and another will go into intercontinental playoffs for a spot at the global tournament.

In front of 65,000 fans at Seoul World Cup Stadium, Lee Kang-in scored in the 61st minute. A cross from Tottenham star Son Heung-min found its way to the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder, who scored on a low shot from near the penalty spot.

“We were able to keep China from creating any dangerous chances,” Son said. “There’s no such thing as a perfect match, but we stayed patient and capitalized on our chance to win. Obviously, we could have won by a bigger margin, but overall, everyone did a great job.”

China needed a draw or better to ensure second place in the group but was forced to wait and hope that Singapore could avoid a three-goal loss in Bangkok.

South Korea's Son Heung-min, right, fights for the ball against...

South Korea's Son Heung-min, right, fights for the ball against China's Yang Zexiang during the second round of the Asian qualifier group C match for 2026 World Cup between South Korea and China at Seoul World Cup Stadium in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, June 11, 2024. Credit: AP/Lee Jin-man

China's only appearance at a men's World Cup so far was in 2002, when the tournament was co-hosted by South Korea and Japan.

At the Rajamangala Stadium, Suphanat Mueanta put Thailand ahead in the first half, and Ikhsan Fandi equalized just before the hour.

Thailand made it 3-1 on goals from Poramet Arjvirai and Jaroensak Wonggorn but couldn't find the key fourth goal.

“I feel disappointed that we didn't make it to the next round,” Suphanat said. “I have to apologize to the football fans and all Thai people … there were so many opportunities.”

China's goalkeeper Wang Dalei reacts after the second round of...

China's goalkeeper Wang Dalei reacts after the second round of the Asian qualifier group C match for 2026 World Cup between South Korea and China at Seoul World Cup Stadium in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, June 11, 2024. Credit: AP/Lee Jin-man

There was also heartbreak for the India squad. India needed to beat Group A leader Qatar to be sure of progressing but lost 2-1 in Doha after scoring the first goal. Kuwait scored in the 81st minute to Afghanistan 1-0 and take second spot with seven points from six games.

Earlier, in a contest between teams already confirmed as first and second in Group I, Australia beat the Palestinian team 5-0 in Perth to make it six wins out of six and a 22-0 goal difference.

Socceroos forward Kusini Yengi scored twice, including the contentious penalty in the opening minutes that upset the Palestinian team, and 18-year-old Nestory Irankunda capped it with a late penalty.

A crowd of 18,261 fans attended the match in the Western Australia capital, with Palestinian supporters more vocal than the Socceroos fans.

Indonesia progressed with a 2-0 win over the Philippines in Group F.

North Korea took advantage of Syria's 5-0 loss to Japan, which did not concede a goal in the six games, to take second place in Group B with a 4-1 win over Myanmar.

Oman and Kyrgyzstan progressed from Group D. Iran and Uzbekistan also made it into the third round which will kick off in September, along with Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Jordan finished atop Group G with a come-from-behind 2-1 upset over the Saudis.

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