South Korea, Australia bolster hopes for making 2014 World Cup
Koreans lead Asia's Group A, Socceroos 2nd in Group B
South Korea 1, Uzbekistan
South Korea is on the brink of qualifying for the World Cup after defeating Uzbekistan in Seoul thnaks to a first-half own goal from Akmal Shorakhmedov.
The win on Tuesday means South Korea needs just a point from its final game to qualify from Asia Group A for an eighth successive World Cup appearance.
It was a deserved win for the host in a game played at a frantic pace in wet conditions. The deadlock was broken just before halftime as Shorakhmedov headed a Kim Young-gwon cross firmly into his own net.
Group A heading into final match
The three countries vying for the automatic two spots, with their point totals and goal differentials:
- South Korea: 14 points, plus-7
- Iran: 13 points, plus-5
- Uzbekistan: 11 points, minus-1
By that time, South Korea, which made six changes from the team that drew 1-1 with Lebanon seven days ago, should already have been ahead. Asian Player of the Year Lee Keun-ho missed an easy chance after 17 minutes, shooting wide from close range.
Uzbekistan needed a win to qualify for a first-ever World Cup and a draw to keep control of its destiny going into the final round of games next week yet.
South Korea, led by the energetic Son Heung-min, one of the stars of the Bundesliga season, and Lee Chung-yong of Bolton Wanderers, turned up the pressure midway through the second half but was unable to get the goal to calm nerves among the 50,000 fans at Seoul World Cup Stadium.
"There was a lot of pressure on the players after the result in Lebanon," South Korea coach Choi Kang-hee told reporters. "We knew that Uzbekistan was in good form and playing well but the players kept their concentration right up to the last second and that was why we were able to win."
Group A is still tight with South Korea, Uzbekistan and Iran all chasing two qualification spots. Although South Korea is top of the group, Choi is not taking anything for granted.
"We are not thinking about the World Cup," he said. "We still have work to do against Iran. We know that will be a tough game and that is what we are focusing on now."
Uzbekistan coach Mirdjalal Kasimov did not dwell on the own goal that was to prove vital.
"It was a tough game as we expected," he said. "Football is not an individual game. The team as a whole tried its best and it is not just about one or two players."
Kasimov knows if South Korea defeats Iran next Tuesday in Ulsan and his team takes three points at home to Qatar then Uzbekistan will still make it to Brazil.
"All is not lost as we have another opportunity at home next week," he said. "It will be good if Korea can play well against Iran in the last game. We also will do our best against Qatar."
Iran 4, Lebanon 0
Iran scored twice in each half Tuesday to beat Lebanon at Azadi Stadium in Tehran and move into second place in its Asian World Cup qualifying group.
Bidding to reach the World Cup for a fourth time, Iran is one point behind South Korea in Group A and two ahead of Uzbekistan.
Iran took the lead in the 39th minute when Mohammed-Reza Kalatbari evaded three defenders before beating goalkeeper Abbas Hassan with a low shot. Javad Nekounam then headed home Khosro Heydari's cross on the stroke of halftime.
It was 3-0 only 45 seconds after the break, with Reza Ghoochannejhad slamming his shot into the top left corner. Nekounam wrapped up the scoring with a curling shot in the 87th minute.
Iran's final match is at South Korea on Tuesday.
Australia 4, Jordan 0
Australia's chances of qualifying for a third consecutive World Cup look considerably brighter after a comprehensive home win in Melbourne over Jordan.
Midfielder Robbie Kruse scored one goal and set up two others as Australia earned the vital win and second spot in Group B, four points behind already-qualified Japan and one ahead of Oman.
Attacking midfielder Mark Bresciano scored in the first half and talismanic forward Tim Cahill found the net after the break — both off Kruse passes — while captain Lucas Neill claimed his first-ever international goal shortly before fulltime.
Japan, which has already qualified, has 17 points from eight games. Iraq has five points and is out, with its final match at Australia next Tuesday. Oman is the biggest threat to Australia, but they must beat Jordan in Amman next Tuesday on the road to have any chance.
The top two teams in each group qualify, and the third-place teams advance to a playoff.
Two-time World Cup veteran and former Serie A playmaker Bresciano scored the opening goal in the 15th minute when he latched onto a lofted centring pass from Kruse to fire the ball past Jordan goalkeeper Amer Shafi.
The Australians quickly grew in confidence, applying growing pressure in the Jordanian half, peppering the goal with shots and forcing some desperate defence.
Jordan was able to threaten at times, with Shadi Abu Hashhash and Adnan Suleiman particularly dangerous, but the Australian defence was equal to the task and Bayer Leverkusen forward Kruse was constantly making inroads in counterattack.
After Australia made a sedate start to the second half, Cahill doubled the lead in the 61st when he stormed onto a Kruse pass to fire the ball in just in front of goal.
The Australians dictated play from then on, with Kruse fittingly finding the net in the 77th, and Neil put the game beyond doubt with a header in the 84th for his first goal in 91 appearances for Australia.
Japan 1, Iraq 0
Japan ended Iraq's chances of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup by scoring late to win 1-0 in a match played in the neutral terriory of Qatar.
Iraq enjoyed plenty of possession and created several chances in the opening half at Grand Hamad Stadium in Doha, but Japan made it pay with an 89th-minute goal from Shinji Okazaki on a counterattack.
Iraq had Alaa Abdul-Zahra sent off in the 82nd after received two yellow cards in quick succession, the second for kicking an opponent in the face while attempting an overhead kick.