In many ways, Group 1 of the Asian third round of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ was the most intriguing. Thrown together in the one group were current Asian champions Iraq, "sleeping giants" China, the always dangerous Qataris with their many naturalised players, and the imposing newcomer in the Asian Football Confederation, Australia. In the end, it was the former Oceania giants and the resilient Qataris who advanced to the fourth stage of qualifying.
The biggest surprise
China 0-1 Qatar, Tianjin, 7 June
China had begun the campaign in indifferent fashion, securing only three draws from their opening three fixtures. However, they were expected to get into gear at home in Tianjin against the Qataris, with whom they had drawn 0-0 in Doha on the previous matchday. Yet Jorge Fossati's Qatar side scored an early penalty through their Uruguay-born striker Sebastian Quintana, and for all the Chinese pressure, they couldn't breach the Qatari rearguard. A key win which played a huge role in Qatar's eventual qualification.
The critical match
Qatar 1-3 Australia, Doha, 14 June
This Matchday 5 encounter brought together the two group leaders, with early qualification the prize for the winner. The Australians had suffered a setback in their previous game with a 1-0 loss to Iraq, and they were clearly struggling with the parching conditions in the Gulf. Yet they pulled themselves up by the bootstraps to put three goals past the Qataris, with Brett Emerton starring in a new midfield role. Things might have been even worse for the Qataris, with Harry Kewell having a valid-looking goal disallowed in the second half. Australia could afford to rest several players in their final match, while Qatar had it all to do against Iraq.
The star players
Sebastian Quintana, after missing the first match against Australia through suspension, proved an absolute menace to opposition defenders. As well as scoring the pivotal goal against China in Tianjin, he caused no end of problems with his strength and aerial ability.
For Australia, the undoubted star of the campaign was Blackburn Rovers' Brett Emerton. In Australia's first-up encounter with Qatar, his penetration on the right and his pinpoint crosses caused all manner of confusion in the Qatari defence, and it was largely he who was responsible for Australia's 3-0 half-time lead. In the return fixture in Doha, Australia coach Pim Verbeek cannily moved Emerton, normally a right-back, into midfield, where he again dominated proceedings.
There have been few more joyous moments in the history of Qatari football than their progression for the final phase of Asian qualifying, which has given them an excellent chance of reaching their first ever FIFA World Cup™ finals. A draw was enough for Fossati's men in the final game in Dubai against Iraq, but Sayed Ali Bechir's 77th-minute goal made sure of things for Qatar.