Korea Republic reached their seventh successive Olympic Games with a game to spare today when they cruised past Oman 3-0 in Muscat.
Midfielder Nam Tae-hee put the Koreans ahead inside the first minute with FC Seoul striker Kim Hyun-sung doubling the score in the 68th minute. Kim Min-woo added the third just four minutes later.
Hong Myung-bo's Korea Republic, who have a four-point lead over second-placed Oman, round off their qualifying campaign on 14 March when they face a Qatar side needing a win to have any hope of claiming the Group A runners-up place.
The Qataris stayed in contention for second place with a 2-1 win at home to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis had taken a 12th-minute lead thanks to a penalty from Ettifaq defender Ahmed Ali Walibi, but the home side were on level terms two minutes from the interval courtesy of skipper Hasan Al Haydos. Naser Nabeel grabbed the winner ten minutes from time.
Before the match, Japan were tied with Syria on nine points and on goal difference, but Syria lost ground with a 2-1 defeat to Bahrain. Japan now have 12 points, three ahead of Bahrain - who they face in their last game - and Syria.
"If we had scored one or two more goals, it would have been better, but I guess four goals is fine," Japan coach Takashi Sekizuka said. "I'm satisfied with the performance of the team, and they got the right result at the end. Individually they played well."
Japan showed their dominance in the early minutes of the match after Hiroki Sakai blasted the ball towards the Malaysian goal only to be saved by goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat.
Sakai, however, was spot on in the 35th minute to give his side the lead. Yuya Osako made it 2-0 for Japan before half time. Genki Haraguchi made it 3-0 in the 55th minute while Saito stamped his mark by scoring the final goal of the match in the 60th minute. Malaysia are out of the running for qualification, having lost all five of their games.
In Group B, the United Arab Emirates are three points ahead of Uzbekistan after a 1-0 win over Australia in Dubai, a win secured by Omar Abdulrahman's first-half strike. Uzbekistan lost ground yesterday when they lost 2-1 to Iraq.
The Uzbeks and UAE meet in the last round of matches on 14 March when Australia will look to end their disappointing campaign on a positive note when they face Iraq.
Only the three group winners are guaranteed a place at the London Olympics with the runners-up entering a round-robin playoff. The winners of that event then face a one-off game on 23 April in the English city Coventry to face Senegal for the continent's last Olympics spot.