It was East Asia on top on the first matchday of Asian fourth round qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Japan gained the upper hand in their long rivalry with Bahrain with a 3-2 away win, while Korea DPR scored a shock 2-1 win over the UAE in Dubai. Elsehwere, Asian powerhouses Saudi Arabia and Iran split the points in Riyadh, while Qatar trounced Uzbekistan.
Matchday 1 results:
Group A: Bahrain 2-3 Japan, Qatar 3-0 Uzbekistan
Group B: United Arab Emirates 1-2 Korea DPR, Saudi Arabia 1-1 Iran
Game of the day
Bahrain 2-3 Japan, Manama, 6 September, 21:30 (local time)
Bahrain: Salman Isa (87), Marcus Tulio Tanaka (88 o.g.)
Japan: Shunsuke Nakamura (18), Yasuhito Endo (44 pen.), Kengo Nakamura (85).
Each time Japan have met Bahrain, matters have been tense, and the two sides' Group A opener in Manama on Saturday was no exception. The East Asians were three goals up with only five minutes to go, but lapses in concentration saw Bahrain scored two quick goals within three minutes.
Japan began brightly as they took the lead after 18 minutes through Shunsuke Nakamura, whose left-footed free kick from 25 yards out caught Bahrain goalkeeper Sayed Jaffer napping. A minute before the break, Japan's advantage was doubled courtesy of Nakamura, the Celtic midfielder earning a spot kick for Japan, which Yasuhito Endo converted.
Kengo Nakamura's goal with only five minutes to go have should have put the game beyond doubt, but Bahrain refused to throw in the towel, getting one back through Salman Isa before reducing the deficit to a solitary goal thanks to Tulio Tanaka's own goal. A nervous Japan held out for the final few minutes to claim a crucial victory.
Surprise of the day
Qatar 3-0 Uzbekistan, Doha, 6 September, 22:00 (local time)
Majdi Siddiq (37), Magid Hassan (73), Talal Albloushi (86)
The match between Qatar and Uzbekistan in Doha was expected to be a very even contest, but the hosts ended up romping home. Both sides were surprise packages in the previous qualifying round, with Qatar knocking out Asian champions Iraq to progress, while Uzbekistan carved out a 3-0 over Saudi Arabia on the way to the fourth round.
The turning point came on 37 minutes, when Qatar took the lead through Majdi Siddiq. Uzbekistan pressed hard after the interval for an equalizer, but their profligacy in front of goal proved costly, and it was Qatar who extended the cushion courtesy of Magid Hassan, before Talal Albloushi sealed a memorable win for the Qataris four minutes from time.
Saudi Arabia 1-1 Iran, Riyadh, 6 September, 22:15 (local time)
The much-anticipated clash of giants in the Gulf proved a somewhat lacklustre affair. Nasser Al Johar's home team took the upper hand in the early stages, and Sadd Al Harthi brought the home crowd to their feet by opening the scoring on 29 minutes. Iran, having weathered the Saudi attacking storms in the first half, threw everything forward for the equalizer in the second. Their efforts paid off with eight minutes to go, when midfielder Javad Nekounam scored to salvage a precious away point for Ali Daei's men.
UAE 1-2 Korea DPR, Abu Dhabi, 6 September, 22:15 (local time)
With their chief marksman Jong Tae Se suspended, Korea DPR played a counter-attacking game against the Emirates side, and their famed backline stayed firm despite a number of good early moves from Bruno Metsu's side. The game looked to be headed for a 0-0 draw, but the Koreans received a gift in the 72nd minute, Basheer Saeed scoring an own goal to give the away side the lead. An Chol Hyok doubled the lead eight minutes later, and although Saeed scored with a left-footed rocket five minutes from the end, it was to be the Koreans' night.
The numbers game
1 - the number of goals Korea DPR have now conceded in their entire qualifying campaign, thanks to Basheer Saeed's 85th-minute consolation for the UAE in Dubai.
What they said
"We came here targeting the full three points, and I am delighted that we achieved our goal. However, conceding two goals in the final five minutes of the game is a definite worry. Our fighting spirit carried us through today...and this is just the beginning." Takeshi Okada, Japan coach