Qatar's chances of clinching an automatic spot from Asia in the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ took a nosedive when they were outclassed 3-0 by a rejuvenated Japan in their crucial group A clash on Wednesday. Japan struck through Tatsuya Tanaka in the 19th minute, Kieji Tamada in the 47th and Tulio Tanaka in the 67th to energise their campaign after a lacklustre 1-1 home draw with Uzbekistan earlier had prompted calls from some critics for coach Takeshi Okada's sacking.

The Japanese, who were ahead of Qatar on goal difference prior to Wednesday's match, have now gone three points clear of Bruno Metsu's side and are placed second behind Australia who took their tally to nine from three matches with a 1-0 win over Bahrain in Manama.

This was Qatar's second straight setback after they were thrashed 4-0 by Australia in Brisbane last month, leaving them with just one home match - against the tough Aussies - who have won all their previous three matches in the Asian campaign comfortably, including two in the previous qualifying phase. The top two teams in each group in the Asian qualifiers will claim automatic berths for the 2010 finals, while the third-place teams will play each other home-and-away with the winner advancing to the inter-confederation play-off with New Zealand.

"We always expected to win but we thought it would be a close match," Japan coach Okada said.

Metsu, under whom Qatar have now conceded seven goals in two qualifying games, admitted his players were outclassed. "We didn't play well at all," the Frenchman said. "We didn't create many chances, nor did we defend properly."

Japan also turned a page in their footballing history on Wednesday - the win being their first against Qatar who had won two of their previous five matches with three of them drawn.

The East Asians, ranked second in Asia, seven places ahead of Qatar, survived a couple of minor scares in the early stages before Tatsuya Tanaka fired them into the lead, taking advantage of the sloppy Qatari defence.

Tanaka, recalled to the side after being dropped for the match against Uzbekistan, chested down a pass from Makoto Hasebe on the edge of the box and fired the ball past the hapless Qatar goalkeeper Mohammed Saqr. Qatar had a decent chance to equalise a few minutes later but Ibrahim Khalfan could only watch in disbelief as his cross from the right flank went begging with nobody to capitalise on it.

The Japanese struck two minutes into the second half when Tamada's powerful left-foot shot from outside the penalty area sailed into the goal, beating the diving Saqr.

With Sebastien Soria Quintana failing to find his touch up front, Qatar were always bound to struggle and hardly had a decent shot at the goal in the second session. Japan put the issue beyond down when Tulio Tanaka knocked in a header after a a measured chip from Celtic star Shunsuke Nakamura.