On the third matchday of the AFC Final Round of qualifying for the Men's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008, Korea Republic underlined their status as Group B's top side with yet another three-point haul.
A 1-0 home victory over Syria on 12 September put the South Koreans clear at the top of the group with nine points from three games, the only team in this final phase to boast a 100 per cent record. After winning 2-1 at closest challengers Bahrain in their previous outing, Park Sung-Hwa's charges showed no ill effects from the long journey back from Manama on their return to the Seoul World Cup Stadium, seizing the advantage shortly after kick-off.
In the ninth minute, Kim Seung-Yong got on the end of Baek Ji-Hoon's pinpoint cross to head home what proved to be the game's only goal. Since taking over from Pim Verbeek as the head coach of Korea Republic's Olympic team in August, coach Park has led his gifted charges to three successive wins. All three victories may have been by a single-goal margin, but they have put the Warriors in pole position for a place at Beijing 2008.
In the other Group B tie, Hamad Al Banki scored in the second minute of injury time to give Bahrain a 2-1 victory over Uzbekistan at the Army Stadium. The win puts second-placed Bahrain on six points after three games, leaving Uzbekistan and Syria trailing some way behind with one point apiece.
Across in Group C, after a goalless draw away to Saudi Arabia in their previous match, Japan welcomed Qatar to the National Stadium in Tokyo. The home fans did not have to wait long for a goal, Yohei Kajiyama breaking into the box to head past Qatar keeper Rajad Kassim after just six minutes.
Japan nearly paid the price for not putting the game out of reach when the 68 th-minute dismissal of Takuya Honda for two yellow cards precipitated a period of intense late pressure from Qatar. However, Japan somehow clung on for the win to go clear at the top with seven points. The 1-1 stalemate between Vietnam and Saudi Arabia in the section's other match meant Qatar stayed in second place with four points.
The hottest battle for qualification is now in Group A where Iraq and Australia were both victorious. In Doha's Al Rayyan SC Stadium, Iraq inflicted a third successive defeat on Korea DPR as they ran out 2-0 winners through goals from Khaldoun Ibrahim (21 minutes) and Ala'a Abdulzahra (69). The North Koreans were not helped by the dismissal of Jon Kwang-Ik eight minutes before the break.
In the other Group A match, Australia continued their perfect home record with a 3-0 success against Lebanon at Central Coast's Blue Tongue Stadium, on the back of a 1-0 success over Korea DPR in their previous match. Nick Ward put Australia in front in the fifth minute, Mark Bridge doubled their lead (24) and David Williams sealed an emphatic victory in injury time. Though both sides stand level on seven points, Iraq top the table ahead of Australia on goal difference.
Results from Matchday Three of the AFC Final Round of qualifying for Beijing 2008 (12 September)
Group B: Korea Republic 1-0 Syria; Uzbekistan 1-2 Bahrain