Australia kept their 100 percent World Cup qualifying record intact with a last-gasp 1-0 win over Bahrain on Wednesday, while Group One rivals Japan secured a crucial 3-0 victory in Qatar.
The result left the Socceroos with nine points from three wins out of three and Japan in second two points adrift, with Qatar on four points after four games. Bahrain and Uzbekistan remain locked at the bottom on one point.
In Group Two, Iran were left frustrated after coming away with just a point after drawing 1-1 against the United Arab Emirates, but South Korea were left happy after posting a 2-0 away win over Saudi Arabia.
South Korea moved to top spot in the group on seven points from three matches, Iran in second on five, and North Korea and Saudi Arabia locked for third spot on four points. The UAE remain winless in fifth and final place.
The top two teams in each group in the Asian qualifiers will claim automatic berths for the 2010 World Cup, while the third-placed teams will play each other home-and-away with the winner advancing to the inter-confederation play-off with New Zealand.
In Manama, Australia left it late against Bahrain, the all-important goal coming three minutes into injury time, and against the run of play, when Palermo midfielder Marco Bresciano beat a couple of defenders to shoot past goalkeeper Sayed Jaffer.
“Bahrain played very well and we didn’t but we were lucky to get these three points. We did not deserve it. We would have been happy with one point,” Australia’s Dutch coach Pim Verbeek said.
“It was a top game but we never really had any control over this game. I tried to change a few things in the second-half as we were running backwards in the first,” he said.
A rejuvenated Japan outclassed Qatar in Doha with Tatsuya Tanaka, Kieji Tamada and Tulio Tanaka scoring for a comprehensive 3-0 win to energize their campaign after a lackluster 1-1 home draw with Uzbekistan earlier had prompted calls from some critics for coach Takeshi Okada’s sacking.
“We always expected to win but we thought it would be a close match,” Okada said.
Bruno Metsu, under whom Qatar have now conceded seven goals in two World Cup qualifying games, admitted his players were outclassed.
“We didn’t play well at all,” the Frenchman said. “We didn’t create many chances, nor did we defend properly.”
In Group Two, Iran’s plans of getting full points against hosts UAE were dashed when they were held to a 1-1 draw.
The visitors were completely dominated at the Al Maktoum Stadium and it was only a late goal against the run of play which fetched them a point.
They also had goalkeeper Seyed Rahmati to thank for several magical saves.
The UAE, who lost two key players, Ali Abbas and Subait Khater, even before the match began when they were penalized for breaking the team curfew, took the lead in the 19th minute through their captain Abdulraheem Jumaa.
Fittingly, it was Iran captain Karim Bagheri who restored parity for his side in the 80th minute.
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