There is a new order in Asia after the top two sides in both the continent's 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifying groups swapped places on Matchday 6. With erstwhile leaders Australia and Korea Republic enjoying a free weekend, Japan and Korea DPR took full advantage with home wins that ensured the eastern duo snatched pole position in their respective groups.
In Group A, Shunsuke Nakamura's match-winning free-kick against Bahrain not only handed Japan top spot, but also put the Blue Samurai within touching distance of grabbing one of the section's two automatic qualifying spots. In Group B, meanwhile, Korea DPR's 2-0 victory over United Arab Emirates lifted them two points clear of Korea Republic, while Saudi Arabia moved into third place with a sensational 2-1 win in Iran.
Uzbekistan also had cause to celebrate after salvaging a FIFA World Cup lifeline with a 4-0 win over a Qatar side, who - like UAE and Bahrain - now face an uphill battle to remain in contention.
Matchday 6 results
28 March, 2009
Group A: Japan 1-0 Bahrain, Uzbekistan 4-0 Qatar
Group B: Korea DPR 2-0 United Arab Emirates, Iran 1-2 Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia again proved to be Iran's nemesis as they came from a goal down to claim a dramatic 2-1 win in Tehran. Masoud Shojaei had put the hosts ahead 12 minutes into second half when he latched on to Limaki Mohammad Khalatbari's perfect pass and lashed the ball home from 20 yards. But the Iranian lead lasted for only 23 minutes, with Naif Hazazi levelling for the Saudis with a ferocious strike before Osama Al Harbi headed home a memorable winner with just four minutes remaining.
Surprise of the day
Uzbekistan 4-0 Qatar
Tadjiyev (34, 45+3, 53), Soliev (61)
Having beaten Uzbekistan 3-0 at home in the corresponding fixture, Bruno Metsu's Qatar were thought to have a psychological edge ahead of this rematch. However, any advantage the visitors might have had went up in smoke when Bilal Rajab received his marching order after 32 minutes. Within two minutes of Rajab's dismissal, Uzbekistan made their numerical advantage count through a headed goal from Farhold Tadjiyev. The Pakhtakor striker went on to double his side's lead in first half stoppage time before making it 3-0 eight minutes into the second half. All three of Tadjiyev's goals were headers and the central Asians underlined their aerial dominance with 29 minutes remaining when Anvarjon Soliev put the seal on a resounding victory.
The other games
Japan 1-0 Bahrain
Having crossed paths on eight previous occasions, five of which had been in FIFA World Cup qualifiers, Japan and Bahrain are the most familiar of adversaries. The Japanese have traditionally dominated the fixture, and today their seventh victory against Bahrain arrived courtesy of a reliable source. Indeed, despite carving out by far the greater number of scoring chances, Japan were once again indebted to the set-piece artistry of Shunsuke Nakamura. With his side struggling to find a breakthrough, the Celtic midfielder stepped up to curl home a trademark free-kick two minutes into the second half, securing a vital three points for Takeshi Okada's side.
Korea DPR 2-0 United Arab Emirates
Pak (51), Mun (90+3)
Korea DPR were in unstoppable form in Pyongyang as they swept aside UAE. This well-deserved victory, their second in as many games, saw the Koreans overtake their southern peninsula neighbours by two points to top Group B. Cheered on by a partisan home crowd, the North Koreans went close to scoring on several occasions in opening half, while UAE were limited to just one shot on goal. This pattern was repeated after the break, with the only difference that Korea DPR's dominance was rewarded with goals from Pak, who unleashed a powerful drive from the edge of the area, and Mun, who sealed the win deep into injury time.
Player of the day
Today witnessed Farhod Tadjiyev emerge, seemingly from nowhere, to announce his unexpected arrival on the Asian scene. The 22-year-old scored three times during a remarkable 18-minute period in Uzbekistan's shock 4-0 win over Qatar, sealing victory for his side and bagging the first hat-trick of Asia's final qualifying round.
The numbers game
32 - the amount of consecutive home matches Iran had strung together without losing before Saudi Arabia became the first side in five years to triumph in Tehran.
What they said
"I thank my players for their hard work as it is never easy to win three points in a World Cup qualifier. But nothing has achieved yet and we have to improve our quality in the games to come," Takeshi Okada, Japan coach.