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Iran, Kuwait and Japan into quarters

© Reuters 2002

PUSAN, South Korea, Oct 5 (Reuters) - Defending champions Iran were joined by Kuwait and Japan as group winners in the last eight of the under-23 tournament at the Asian Games on Saturday.

They will contest the quarter-finals along with the best runners-up, Bahrain and North Korea, and the group winners decided last Thursday - hosts South Korea, Thailand and China.

In Saturday's matches Iran drew 1-1 with Qatar to top group E, Kuwait beat North Korea 2-0 in group F and Japan overcame Uzbekistan 1-0 in group D thanks to a Satoshi Nakayama penalty.

In Tuesday's quarter-finals Iran will play Kuwait at the Yangsan Public Stadium, China face Japan at the Masan Sports Complex, South Korea meet Bahrain at the Ulsan Munsu Stadium and Thailand take on North Korea at the Gudeok Main Stadium.

Iran, who rested striker Ali Daei, had Ali Badavi to thank for the point they needed to make sure of a place in the last eight. The midfielder equalised on 34 minutes when he fired home from 15 metres after a scramble in the penalty area.

Qatar had taken the lead two minutes earlier at the Masan Sports complex when Ibrahim Abdula Al-Ghanim diverted the ball into the net off his backside following a cross from the left.

In the other group E match Afghanistan lost 11-0 to Lebanon, although both teams were already out. Afghanistan conceded 32 goals in three matches on their return to the international sporting arena for the first time since the 1994 Asian Games.

In group F Kuwait needed just a point against North Korea but two goals in the first half from Khalaf M al Mutairi and Bashar A Abdulaziz made sure they progressed. The North Koreans could take heart from finishing as one of the best runners-up.

Japan's slim victory came via a 39th minute penalty from Nakayama, who was brought down by Klikunov. The 21-year-old picked himself up and fired the spot kick into the net.

The Gamba Osaka forward tormented the defence throughout the match and almost grabbed a second goal after being released by Naohiro Ishikawa in injury time but his shot flew wide.

After the match he was the last to leave the pitch as he took the plaudits from the enthusiastic band of Japanese fans.

Bahrain had to go for goals to qualify as one of the best runners-up and ran out comfortable winners against Palestine.

They took a 4-0 halftime lead and added a fifth in the second half with their victory coming thanks to two from Ahmed Hassan Taleb plus goals from fellow midfielders Rashed A Rahman Saif and Husain Mohamed and forward Husain Ali Ahmed.

In the other group F game Hong Kong beat Pakistan 3-0.

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