FIFA World Cup Qualifying Wrap: Asian powerhouses close in on finals
By Football News
South Korea, Iran and Australia all took a significant step towards securing a place at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil on Tuesday.
The trio emerged victorious from the latest round of Asian qualifiers, as Matchday Nine served up few surprises.
In a battle for Group A supremacy in Seoul, South Korea put themselves in pole position to reach Brazil 2014 with a 1-0 win over Uzbekistan - although they were given a helping hand by Uzbek defender Akmal Shorakhmedov.
The full-back's first-half own goal proved decisive when he jumped to clear Kim Young-Gwon's cross in the 44th minute ahead of Lee Keun-Ho and inadvertently headed the ball into his own net.
On a damp day in the South Korean capital, the home side started well and should have taken the lead midway through the half through Lee, who missed when well placed, but Uzbekistan offered a threat of their own and will feel they could have taken something from the game.
A win would have given the Uzbeks a guaranteed spot at the finals, and they sparked into life after weathering the early pressure, as Ulug Bakaev had two excellent chances well saved.
The game's only goal came just before the break as Shorakhmedov put into his own net.
Uzbekistan felt there was a handball and a foul in the build up but when a right-wing cross came into the penalty area, the full-back mistimed his header, which flew past his helpless goalkeeper Ignatiy Nesterov.
It marked the first goal that Uzbekistan had conceded since last October, and could prove a costly one to their hopes of making further progress.
Victory means that South Korea now only need a draw from their final game against Iran, who are also in good shape after a 4-0 thumping of Lebanon.
The outcome was never in doubt for the hosts at a packed Azadi Stadium from the point that Mohammad Khalatbari broke the deadlock six minutes before the break.
Captain Javad Nekonam then took centre stage - the former Osasuna midfielder making it two just prior to the interval and grabbing his second four minutes from time.
In between, Reza Ghoochannejhad fired home to get his name on the scoresheet as Iran cruised to second place in the group.
In Group B, Australia registered their first home triumph of the campaign courtesy of a comfortable 4-0 win over Jordan.
A first-half goal from Mark Bresciano at Melbourne's Etihad Stadium was topped off by second-half efforts from Tim Cahill, Robbie Kruse and captain Lucas Neill, who scored his first international goal in his 91st match.
The win moves Australia into second place in the Group B standings with one match remaining, against Iraq in Sydney next Tuesday. A win in that game will guarantee them qualification.
The manner of the victory - secured thanks to goals from Bresciano in the 15th minute, Cahill in the 61st, Kruse in 76th and Neill in 85th - will give Australia coach Holger Osieck plenty of confidence going into what he hopes will be the final match of their qualifying campaign.
The loss ends Jordan's hopes of progressing automatically and the best they can now hope for is to earn a play-off spot with a win over Oman in Amman next week.
Japan have already qualified, and they continued their impressive form with a 1-0 win against Iraq that ends their hopes of making further progress.
Even with captain Makoto Hasebe suspended and inspirational Keisuke Honda - whose injury-time penalty against Australia last week ensured that Japan became the first team, other than the hosts, to secure their place in Brazil - rested, the Japanese still dominated, although they had to wait until the final minute to net the winner when Shinji Okazaki rolled the ball into an empty net.
Japan will now head to the FIFA Confederations Cup looking to build on what has been an excellent qualifying campaign.