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.”
‘GREAT EVENING‘: In the women’s singles in Rome, Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova advanced, while Rafael Nadal swept into the quarters in the men’s singles Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic on Friday had to dig deep to advance to the semi-finals of the women’s doubles at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. The top seeds, who did not drop a game in their opening match on the clay courts at the Foro Italico, battled to a 7-6 (7/5), 6-4 victory over sixth seeds Veronika Kudermetova and Katerina Siniakova in 1 hour, 39 minutes. The reigning Wimbledon champions saved nine of 11 break points and converted three of eight, winning 56 percent of points on their second serve and sending down two aces
’SO CONSISTENT’: The victory gave the world No. 1 and world No. 2 a 21-1 win-loss record and their fourth title of the season after successes in Brisbane, Dubai and Doha Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic on Sunday cruised to their fourth women’s doubles title of the season at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome in their first tournament back since the suspension of the WTA Tour due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The top seeds took just 63 minutes to complete a comprehensive 6-2, 6-2 victory over unseeded German-Romanian duo Anna-Lena Friedsam and Raluca Olaru at the Foro Italico. It was the Taiwanese-Czech pairing’s first outing since they won the Qatar Open in February. “After five months, you don’t know what to expect,” Strycova told the WTA Web site.
‘FUN TIME’: Denver’s Nikola Jokic said that his team would not accept that anyone else is better than them and the opposition need to play much better than they do Just about everyone had LA versus LA written in for the NBA’s Western Conference finals, but the resilient Denver Nuggets have crashed the party. Behind Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets advanced to the conference finals for the first time since 2009 to face LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. Game 1 is scheduled to be played tomorrow. This was no ordinary road. The Nuggets fell behind 3-1 in their first-round series against the Utah Jazz before bouncing back with three straight victories. Then they went down 3-1 to the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round before winning in Game 7
‘GREAT COMPETITOR’: Former French Open champion Garbine Muguruza was tested by American teenager Coco Gauff, before the Spaniard advanced in three sets Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic on Thursday cruised into the quarter-finals of the women’s doubles at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia by handing their Japanese opponents a rare “double bagel,” a feat matched by US Open losing finalist Victoria Azarenka in the women’s singles. Top seeds Hsieh and Strycova took just 49 minutes to see off the challenge of Japanese duo Nao Hibino and Makoto Ninomiya 6-0, 6-0 on the clay courts at the Foro Italico in Rome. The Taiwanese-Czech duo saved both break points they faced and converted six of 14, winning 62 percent of their first