Mon, Jun 08, 2009 - Page 20 News List

Asia’s big three seal World Cup berths

IN THE RUNNING: After Japan became the first side to book their place in South Africa next year with a win over Uzbekistan, Australia and South Korea also secured spots


Japan soccer team members splash water over head coach Takeshi Okada, center, to celebrate their victory over Uzbekistan in their World Cup qualifier at Tashkent on Saturday. Japan defeated Uzbekistan 1-0 and became the first country to qualify for next year’s World Cup in South Africa.


Australia, Japan and South Korea celebrated yesterday after powering into the World Cup finals, reinforcing their credentials as Asia’s best soccer teams.

Japan became the first side anywhere to book their place in South Africa with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Uzbekistan in Tashkent, with Shunji Okazaki’s strike after nine minutes enough to seal their berth from Group A.

Australia joined them after a bruising goalless draw with Qatar in Doha to remain unbeaten after their six games to sit alongside Japan on 14 points.

Both teams have two games left to play but the focus is now on who grabs the third-placed play-off slot from the group, with Bahrain the clear favorite.

The Bahrainis have seven points to Qatar’s five and Uzbekistan’s four, but with a game in hand. They face Australia away on Wednesday and then have a home tie against the Uzbeks on June 17.

In Group B, South Korea ensured they will appear in their seventh successive World Cup finals with a 2-0 victory over the United Arab Emirates in Dubai.

Park Chu-young opened South Korea’s account in the fifth minute and Ki Sung-yeung benefited from a comical error by the UAE goalkeeper on 37 minutes to seal the issue.

Saudi Arabia, who did not play on Saturday, are in the driving seat to take the second automatic qualifying spot in the group.

They have 11 points to South Korea’s 14, one behind North Korea but with a game in hand.

Iran have seven points but their chances are slim after their goalless draw against North Korea in Pyongyang.

The Saudis face South Korea in Seoul on Wednesday and then have what could be a decisive home tie against North Korea on June 17.

The two third-placed teams in each group play each other in a play-off, with the winner taking on New Zealand for the remaining slot at the finals.

Japan coach Takeshi Okada paid tribute to his players’ hard work in getting them to their fourth successive World Cup finals.

“I’d like to thank our players for their hard work,” Okada said. “It was a tough game, as we had expected, and our players fought hard until the very end of the game. They showed their mental toughness when our opponents wouldn’t let us play our brand of football.

“This is just the start for us. I’m grateful that we have got this opportunity,” he said.

Australia coach Pim Verbeek was also delighted after watching his team make the finals for the second time in a row.

Verbeek will have been equally pleased that his former charges at South Korea also made the grade.

Their coach, Huh Jung-moo, revealed he hoped his northern neighbors would follow his side to South Africa, to give Korea two teams at the tournament for the first time ever.

“I personally hope that North Korea can qualify with us to the finals because it will be the first time in World Cup history to have this,” he said. “I’m really happy that we made it. We played well and we are all satisfied with a performance that saw us win and ensure a place in South Africa in 2010. The players were excellent throughout the qualifiers and they did a great job.”

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