Europe-based stars made decisive contributions as the race to claim Asia's four automatic tickets to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ intensified today. The beneficiaries were Australia, Iran and Korea Republic, who all recorded important victories.
For the Socceroos and the Taegeuk Warriors, their respective defeats of Qatar and United Arab Emirates moved them top of their sections, while Team Melli's 2-1 win over Korea DPR lifted them into the runners-up spot in Group 2. Japan, by contrast, were not able to justify their favouritism at home, drawing 1-1 with Uzbekistan.
Australia beat Qatar twice in the previous phase, and they made it three wins from three attempts in Brisbane, largely thanks to their players from the English Premier League. The relentless Tim Cahill got the ball rolling on nine minutes, and the Everton attacking midfielder then won the penalty from which Brett Emerton doubled their lead eight minutes later. The Blackburn Rovers player added his second and the Socceroos' third after the restart, before Joshua Kennedy, who plays his club football for Karlsruher in the German Bundesliga, sealed a comprehensive triumph for Pim Verbeek's side by heading home a cross from Dinamo Moscow's Luke Wilkshire.
Surprise of the day
Japan 1-1 Uzbekistan
Maksim Shatskikh (27) for Uzbekistan; Keiji Tamada (40) for Japan
Uzbekistan traveled to Saitama having lost four of their five previous meetings with Japan, and their opening two Group 1 fixtures. New coach Mirdjalal Kasimov was determined to arrest this statistic, and following an evenly-balanced 90 minutes, his side left the field having put their first point on the board in the fourth phase of Asian Zone qualifying.
Kasimov owes a debt of gratitude to Bunyodkor coach Zico, who offered his predecessor at club level some pragmatic tips: principally to play on the counter-attack. Uzbekistan took heed and, on 27 minutes and against the run of play, Dinamo Kiev's Maksim Shatskikh fired them ahead following a swift break. Keiji Tamada tapped home an equaliser shortly before the break, and although both sides probed for a winning goal, they ultimately shared the spoils.
Korea Republic 4-1 United Arab Emirates
Lee Keun-Ho (19, 80), Park Ji-Sung (25), Kwak Tae-Hee (88) for Korea Republic; Ismail Al Hammadi (71) for United Arab Emirates
Manchester United's Park Ji-Sung impressed and scored against United Arab Emirates, but Korea Republic's stand-out performer in Seoul was Lee Keun-Ho. The 23-year-old forward broke the deadlock and then put the game beyond the visitors' reach with ten minutes remaining, before Kwak Tae-Hee amplified his team's winning margin.
Iran 2-1 Korea DPR
Mehdi Mahdavikia (10), Javad Nekounam (64), Jong Tae-Se (71)
Goals from Eintracht Frankfurt's Mehdi Mahdavikia, on his return to the national team, and midfielder Javad Nekounam of Osasuna thrust Iran into Group 2 contention. The result left them level on points with Korea Republic, Saudi Arabia and Korea DPR, who ensured a nervy finish for their hosts in Tehran through Jong Tae-Se's deficit-halving goal on 71 minutes.
The numbers game
2 - The number of successive games in which Brett Emerton has scored a brace against Qatar. In their previous meeting, his two goals helped Australia run out 3-1 winners.
What they said
"We've played two games, got six points, scored five goals and conceded none. I think we did well. The goals were fantastic and we controlled the game from the outset to the final whistle," Pim Verbeek, Australia coach.