After the opening two games of Asia's final round of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, it is a surprising duo that has emerged as front-runners in the two groups. Leading Group A are Qatar, while Korea DPR share pole position in Group B with Saudi Arabia, after their 1-1 draw against Korea Republic.
There has been no shortage of local media coverage of the games, and praise and blame have been dished out in equal measure. FIFA.com takes a look at what the Asian press have been saying.
With four points from two matches, it seems that Qatar, under Uruguayan tactician Jorge Fossati, are set to change their status as one of Asia's perennial under-achievers.
The team's impressive form recently has even led the local press to surmise that they could have fared even better. Despite Qatar's excellent start, journalists are still lamenting their missing out on three points against a ten-man Bahrain.
"Jorge Fossati's side had a brilliant opportunity to seal another victory (against Bahrain) before the break," reads an article from the Gulf Times. The author, understandably, provided quotes from a disappointed Fossati. "The victory was well within our sight. But sadly we gifted Bahrain a point! Not only did we waste a number of good opportunities," he went on, "but we made mistakes by dropping back too much, despite having the numerical advantage for over an hour."
The men from the tiny Gulf state are not alone in making waves in the region. Korea DPR have earned plenty of plaudits after nearly stunning their southern Peninsula neighbors in the neutral venue of Shanghai.
The fact that the two sides played out their fourth draw this year, and the third in the qualifying campaign, disappointed Sports Donga, a daily newspaper in Korea Republic. "Was it a trick of fate? It was a draw, yet again." An article entitled "Another draw leaves headaches" painted a gloomy picture. "Despite both coaches' aspirations to win the game, neither side could return with all three points. The result was even worse for the South Koreans, who will have to beat the UAE at home next month."
But a bright performance from their prodigy Ki Seung-Yeung provided the local press with some consolation. The country's leading news agency, Yonhap, was quick to hail the emergence of the talented youth. "The 19-year-old midfielder came to Korea Republic's rescue when the Taeguk Warriors looked destined for a shock defeat at the hands of Korea DPR," was the verdict on Korea Republic's newest star.
Praise for Socceroos
While the opening two rounds provided mixed fortunes for Asia's Big Five, who featured at Germany 2006, coach Pim Verbeek's Australia were lauded for their convincing performance in the 1-0 win over Uzbekistan.
"To win in such circumstances was a huge achievement," wrote a Sydney Morning Herald columnist. "Australia couldn't field its best team, at least on paper, and Uzbekistan were desperate."
Praise also went to Verbeek, whose Dutch courage the Australians are relying upon to reach their second successive FIFA World Cup finals. "The squad is evolving beautifully under the assured and tactically superb coaching of Verbeek," enthused a commentator from The Australian.