MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – Saudi Arabia crashed out of World Cup qualifying with a 4-2 loss away to Australia on Wednesday, as Oman progressed to the final round of Asian qualifiers at its neighbor's expense.
Going into the final day of round three qualifiers, Saudi Arabia was a point ahead of Oman and two points ahead of Thailand, with the latter two playing in a simultaneous game, and the Saudis looked like progressing when they led 2-1 entering the final 20 minutes of the match in Melbourne.
However Australia scored three times in four minutes to turn the match on its head, and drop Saudi Arabia down to third in the group behind Oman, which beat Thailand 2-0.
Saudi Arabia had been considered a pre-eminent power in Middle East football, but it didn't qualify for South Africa 2010 and now has been eliminated at an even earlier stage of qualifying for Brazil 2014.
The premature elimination would also leave the career of its coach Frank Rijkaard - former manager of the Netherlands and Barcelona - at the crossroads.
Australia was already assured of a place in the next stage and top spot in the group, entering the Melbourne match with a six-point lead.
Salem Al Dawsari opened the scoring for Saudi Arabia in the 19th minute before Alex Brosque equalized for the hosts in the 43rd.
Nasser Al Shamrani put the visitors back ahead in first-half stoppage time. However he spurned a good chance in the 72nd minute, and that was the cue for Australia's onslaught.
Japan-based Brosque provided the last pass for Harry Kewell's left-footed equalizer in the 73rd, making it 2-2. Brosque scored again in the 75th and Brett Emerton made it 4-2 with a sliding goal a minute later.
Meanwhile in Muscat, both Oman and Thailand were chasing a victory they needed to reach the next round, knowing a draw would not have been enough for either team.
Midfielder Hussain al-Hadhri opened the scoring in the 10th minute for Oman and then midfielder Adbul al-Muqbali made sure of the victory in the 90th minute.
In other games with no impact on fourth-round places: already-eliminated China had a 3-1 home win over a Jordan team that had booked its place in the next stage, Uzbekistan won 1-0 at Japan in a clash of the top teams in Group C, and Tajikistan secured its only point of third-round qualifying by drawing 1-1 at home against another also-ran in North Korea.