As everyone expected after the Preliminary Draw for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, the battle for first place in Group 4 was between Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan. Eventually it was the Saudis who won the group on goal difference, despite replacing their coach midway through the campaign and trailing the Uzbeks until the final matchday. At the other end of the table, Singapore made a good impression by twice beating Lebanon, who finished without a single point.
Uzbekistan 3-0 Saudi Arabia, Tashkent, 26 March
Both sides had made winning starts in February, and whoever won the second game would clearly gain a massive psychological edge in the group. With the Saudis struggling to regroup after captain Yasser Al Qahtani was stretchered off in the 39th minute, the hosts took the lead on the stroke of half-time through Timur Kapadze's header. The Uzbeks kept up the pressure after the interval and doubled their advantage six minutes after the hour mark, when skipper Maksim Shatskikh broke clear in the inside right channel to make it 2-0. Two minutes later, Server Djeparov converted a penalty to put the result beyond doubt.
The critical match
Uzbekistan 1-0 Singapore, Tashkent, 7 June
Having won their first three matches, the Uzbeks were on the verge of becoming the first Asian team to reach the final round. For the hosts, however, it was not as easy as their previous game, in which they had crushed Singapore 7-3. The Lions held firm until the 80th minute, when second half substitute Alexander Geynrikh finally found the net following a goalmouth scramble. The visitors could have equalised with three minutes left, but Aleksandr Duric's header was not quite powerful enough to spoil the party.
The star players
Uzbekistan captain Maksim Shatskikh is a strong favourite to finish as top scorer in the Asian qualifiers. Having scored five times against Chinese Taipei in the second phase, the Krylia Sovetov Samara forward added two more to his tally against Saudi Arabia and Singapore. His team-mate Server Djeparov netted four goals in the third round, as Uzbekistan claimed the most impressive scoring record with no less than 15 goals.
Little was at stake in the final group game between Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan on 22 June, as they had both already qualified for the next round. But the Saudis wanted revenge for their 3-0 defeat by the Uzbeks, and could overtake the leaders if they beat them by four goals. And they did just that. Under the guidance of their new coach Nasser Al Johar, Saudi Arabia's coach at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan TM, the hosts stormed to a two-goal lead through Abdoh Autef and Malek Maaz by half-time. Saad Al Harthi then made it 3-0 in the 56th minute, before Maaz completed the rout with his second three minutes from the final whistle. The result put both sides level on 15 points, but the Saudis took pole position by virtue of their superior goal difference.