Asian Zone qualifying began with 43 teams competing for four automatic tickets to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Australia, Japan and Korea Republic underlined their favouritism by seizing one apiece, while the other two seeds, Saudi Arabia and Iran, missed out as Korea DPR booked an unforeseen return to the global finals.
That left Bahrain to face a second successive intercontinental play-off for a place at the FIFA World Cup. And, regrettably for the Persian Gulf side, it ended in defeat once again, New Zealand their latest conquerors.
Australia began the campaign as the only team to have reached the second round at Germany 2006, and they vindicated their position as one of the Asian Zone’s most formidable sides. After sailing through a pool that also featured Qatar, China PR and Iraq, the Socceroos continued to impress in the final group stage, sealing qualification with two games to spare.
Japan ultimately deserved qualification for a fourth FIFA World Cup, but they were made to work hard for it. When they were held at home by Uzbekistan in the concluding round, many even questioned whether they would make it to South Africa. However, the Japanese responded in style and Shinji Okazaki’s solitary goal away to the same opponents clinched their place among the world’s elite.
Having dominated Asian qualifying for so long, Korea Republic were expected to achieve a seventh successive qualification. What was truly impressive was how they accomplished it: not only did the Taeguk Warriors do so with two matches remaining, but they were the only Asian team to complete their mission undefeated.
Korea Republic were given headaches by Korea DPR, who held their arch-rivals to three draws before a narrow loss in their fourth meeting. But it did not prevent the Chollima reaching South Africa 2010, a determined stalemate in Saudi Arabia in their last game earning them the point they needed to progress.
Australia goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer was exceptional throughout, conceding just two goals in 13 appearances. The inventive spark of Mark Bresciano and prolificacy of attacking midfielder Tim Cahill also aided the Socceroos’ qualification charge.
Two Nakamuras figured prominently for Japan, with Kawasaki Frontale’s Kengo bossing the midfield alongside Espanyol playmaker Shunsuke. The latter was on target three times, while the former provided the pass for Okazaki to score the qualification-clinching goal against Uzbekistan.
Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-Sung proved Korea Republic’s talisman, scoring five times en route to captaining his side to South Africa 2010. He was helped by the emergence of two exciting talents, Park Chu-Young and Lee Keun-Ho, both 24-year-olds who found the net with apparent ease.
Korea DPR had been urged by coach Kim Jong-Hun to “maximize both offense and defense”, and it was the team spirit that proved their best asset. However, captain Hong Yong-Jo and his Japan-based strike partner Jong Tae-Se both excelled.
0 - The number of Asian Zone qualification campaigns in which Australia had previously competed.
"Our spirit became the unifying force of the team and inspired the players, and these were the biggest advantages we enjoyed throughout the qualifying campaign. The players' qualities ensured they can cope with any difficult games and achieve satisfying results," Korea DPR coach Kim Jong-Hun.
The qualified teams
Australia, Japan, Korea Republic, Korea DPR
The top scorers
Sarayoot Chaikamdee (Thailand, 8 goals)
Maksim Shatskikh (Uzbekistan, 8 goals)
Ahmad Ajab (Kuwait, 6 goals)
Ismail Matar (United Arab Emirates, 6 goals)
Zyad Chaabo (Syria, 5 goals)
Park Ji-Sung (Korea Republic, 5 goals)
Mohammed Ghaddar (Lebanon, 5 goals)
Sebastian Quintana (Qatar, 5 goals)
Tim Cahill (Australia, 4 goals)
Brett Emerton (Australia, 4 goals)