After the penultimate round of Asia's third stage of
qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ on Saturday,
seven more teams booked progression to join Uzbekistan in last ten,
leaving only two pairs of contenders to battle it out for the
remaining two places in the last fixtures on 22 June.
Australia, 1-0 losers to Iraq in the previous match a week ago, bounced back with a 3-1 thrashing of hosts Qatar to deservedly claim first place in Group 1. In the other match, China bowed out after the 2-1 home defeat at the hands of Iraq, who need just a point to go through in the next match against Qatar.
Group 2 saw Bahrain and Japan each advancing as expected. Japan carved out a 3-0 win against hosts Thailand and the result, coupled with Bahrain's 1-1 draw against Oman in the other match played later, saw the two group favourites establishing unassailable advantages with a game to spare.
The qualifying task in Group 3 looked much more straightforward for the teams from the Korean peninsula, who progressed to the last ten hand in hand. In the earlier match, Korea DPR comfortably dispatched Jordan 2-0 at home. The result not only sent coach Kim Jong-Hun's charges through but also assured their southern neighbours a place in the next stage, even without their 3-1 triumph over Turkmenistan.
Group 4 runners-up Saudi Arabia, under newly appointed coach Nasser Al Johar, underlined their credentials as Asia's big boys by claiming the group's second qualifying berth with a 2-0 win over hosts Singapore, with Abdoh Autef and Ahmed Al Fraidi on target in each half.
After grabbing their first win over UAE last week, Ali Daei's Iran continued their winning form as they registered a 2-0 victory over Syria to safely sail through. UAE, 3-2 winners over Kuwait in an thrilling game, will face Syria in the last match needing a draw to go through.
Results of Matchday 5
Group 1: China 1-2 Iraq; Qatar 1-3 Australia
Group 2: Bahrain 1-1 Oman; Thailand 0-3 Japan
Group 3: Korea DPR 2-0 Jordan; Turkmenistan 1-3 Korea Republic
Group 4: Uzbekistan 3-0 Lebanon; Singapore 0-2 Saudi Arabia
Group 5: Kuwait 2-3 United Arab Emirates; Syria 0-2 Iran
Game of the day
Qatar 1-3 Australia
Goals: Brett Emerton 17, 56, Harry Kewell 74 (Australia); Khalfan Al Khalfan 89 (Qatar)
In a determined performance in Doha, the visiting side took the
lead after 16 minutes through Brett Emerton, who side-footed Mark
Bresciano's low cross into the net. The Australian No.10 went
on to sparkle in the second half, doubling their advantage by
scoring his second on 56 minutes, before Harry Kewell put the game
beyond doubt, leaving Khalfan Al Khalfan's late goal as a mere
Surprise of the day
China 1-2 Iraq
Goals: Zhou Haibin 33 (China); Emad Mohammed 41, Nashat Akram 66 (Iraq)
China took the lead courtesy of midfielder Zhou Haibin, who opened the scoring with a free kick on 33 minutes. The hosts' delight, however, didn't last long as diminutive striker Emad Mohammed headed Iraq back on level terms four minutes before the break. China threw everything forward in the second half, but they only left more holes at the back. Nashat Akram scored a spectacular goal 24 minutes from the close to hand Iraq their second consecutive win.
While the victory moved Iraq up to the group's second place, the result sent China crashing out with a match to spare...somewhat reminiscent of their disappointing early exit in the qualifying campaign for Germany 2006.
Player of the day
After netting the only goal against Jordan in their opening qualifier, Hong Yong-Jo again became Korea DPR's hero as he scored in either half in his team's 2-0 victory at Pyongyang's Yanggakdo Stadium. Just a minute before the break, Hong, who played a key role in coach Kim Jong-Hun's counter-attacking game plan, put the home side in front by firing a rocket past Jordan goalkeeper Lo'ai Al Amaireh. The 26-year-old's predatory instincts were best illustrated in his second goal, which came 18 minutes from time, when he beat nearly the entire Jordan defensive line with a mazy run before firing his low shot on target.
Goal of the day
Nashat Akram (Iraq)
The midfield maestro who steered Iraq to the continental title in last July's AFC Asian Cup, Nashat Akram stayed cool-headed throughout the match against China, pulling the strings in the centre before sealing the victory with a clinical finish. The winner came 24 minutes from time when the two sides were level at 1-1. In a swift counter-attack, Akram went from ball distributor to finisher when he was picked out by Sadir on the edge of the area. He then fired a low lightning shot inside the right post.
The numbers game
30: The number of goals scored in this round, averaging three goals per match, the highest scoring quota since the opening match on 6 February.
What they said
"Our players did well in the heat of Bangkok and particularly the two defensive midfielders impressed with good movement throughout the game, even though Daisuke Matsui pulled a muscle in his leg. That's something we have been missing, and the team needed." Japan coach Takeshi Okada