Japan, Australia, South Korea through to 2010 World Cup (Asian Roundup)

June 7th, 2009 - 5:22 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangkok, June 7 (DPA) Japan was again the first team to qualify, with Australia and South Korea also through to the 2010 football World Cup.
Japan Saturday joined South Africa, who have direct entry as hosts, at the 32-team tournament courtesy of Shinji Okazaki’s ninth-minute header for a 1-0 win against hosts Uzbekistan.

Australia got the point they needed two hours later in a 0-0 draw in Qatar as they and Japan advanced from group 1 as they can’t be caught in the final two games.

In Group 2, South Korea won 2-0 against United Arab Emirates to clinch their berth as well.

The two top teams from each group qualify for the June 11-July 11, 2010, finals. The third-placed teams meet in a playoff series and the winner advances to another playoff tie with Oceania winner New Zealand for a World Cup berth.

Japan doesn’t require this gruelling programme as it qualified first as in the campaign for 2006.

Okazaki was the hero in Tashkent when he headed home early on after his intial attempt was saved by goalkeeper Ignatiy Nesterov.

Yasuhito Endo’s freekick and Yoshito Okubo were denied by the post while Shunsuke Nakamura was just wide late in the game. Japan then retained the lead even though Makoto Hasebe was sent off in the 89th.

“Japan are a big team… who have become a major force in world football. We are delighted that they today became the first team to qualify for the 2010 World Cup,” said South African organising committee chief Danny Jordaan.

Japan, who were also the first team to qualify for the 2006 edition, will play in their fourth straight World Cup.

Australia can look ahead at their second trip in a row and third overall to the finals even though the Socceroos wasted several top chances in Doha against the Qatar team.

“Qualifying this time around, with the travel and match conditions the team has experienced, is a true measure of the progress football has made,” said Australian football supremo Ben Buckley.

Australia played in the Asian zone for the first time in a move from the Oceania from where they made it for 2006 in a playoff penalty-shootout against Uruguay.

“While ‘do or die’ results, such as the famous Uruguay game four years ago are exciting, a qualifying campaign such as this one through the Asian zone is a tough test,” said Buckley. “We could not be more delighted.”

Australia and Japan have 14 points each ahead of their two final matches, Bahrain seven, Qatar five and Uzbekistan four.

South Korea advanced from Group 2 thanks to first-half goals from Park Chu-Young and Ki Sung-Yueng in Dubai against the UAE team.

They have 14 points from six matches to lead from North Korea (11 from seven) and Saudi Arabia (10 from six).

The 2002 semi-finalists South Korea are assured of qualification for the eighth time because Saudi Arabia and North Korea play each other, in a crucial showdown June 17.

Iran are fourth on seven points and the UAE are bottom of the table with one point.

North Korea and Iran played to a 0-0 draw in Pyongyang Saturday which helped neither side. The home side dominated most of the game, but Iran goalkeeper Seyed Rahmati pulled off a number of spectacular saves to deny Hong Yong-Jo and Pak Nam-Chol.

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