Asian critics are invariably hard to please; sometimes even victory does not guarantee the avoidance of criticism, especially when 2010 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying is on the line. Conversely, a draw can send the media into raptures, as it did in Australia, where despite the national team's winning run being ended by a goalless draw against Japan, the press remained positive.
This was understandable enough. An away point and yet another clean sheet had kept the Australians firmly atop Group A. Furthermore, with three of the remaining qualifiers to be played on their home soil, the local media appears to have little doubt that the Socceroos will make it to the global showpiece for the second consecutive time.
In an article entitled "Not pretty, no risks, but Pim Verbeek has one foot on plane to South Africa," The Australian lauds the Dutchman. "It's hard to find any faults in Verbeek's superbly thought-out, well-executed World Cup qualifying campaign as the Socceroos continue to make huge strides."
"Australia needs only four points from its remaining four games - three of which are at home - to ensure successive appearances at the World Cup finals," stated the national broadsheet.
Even the bravest observers would admit that Verbeek's side had an ounce of luck in winning a point against Japan, a fact which left the Dutch coach a lucky man in the eyes of Melbourne's Herald Sun.
"Japan was inventive and cohesive, and shaved the Socceroos goal, but couldn't quite get through," writes Australia's biggest selling newspaper. "Verbeek should buy a lottery ticket."
Not pretty, no risks, but Pim Verbeek has one foot on plane to South Africa.
The same 0-0 scoreline was, however, received differently in Japan, where coach Takeshi Okada came under fire. The disappointment of missing the chance to move to the top of the group was palpable for the Asahi Daily which labeled the match "forgettable".
Japan's inability to pack a punch in front of goal was again highlighted. "We were able to create many chances," Okada was quoted as saying. "But we'll have to raise the accuracy of our play for the next game (against Bahrain)."
Relief for Koreans
While a 1-1 scoreline was perhaps a fitting result for two familiar rivals like Iran and Korea Republic, it was undoubtedly Huh Jung-Moo who was the happier of the two coaches upon leaving the Azadi Stadium at Tehran with his side's undefeated record still intact. The draw preserved Korea Republic's pole position in the group, leading near-neighbours Korea DPR by a single point.
Park Ji-Sung, who came to the team's rescue yet again by cancelling Javad Nekounam's goal for the precious point, was making headlines across the country. "Although he had arrived in Tehran only two days before the match and was not in his finest form, captain Park did not miss the one and only chance that came to him," writes Hankook Ilbo. "The golden equaliser was his tenth international goal in 75 caps."
On the opposite side, the draw came as a bitter pill to swallow for Iran coach Ali Daei, who had vowed to snatch full points at home. Despite slipping into third, Daei remains optimistic of leading his team to their fourth FIFA World Cup appearance.
"Korea Republic has four European-based players and we were held by a great team," said Daei in the Iran Times. "But we still have a chance to advance to South Africa 2010."