Despite pulling off a 2-0 home win over Uzbekistan on Matchday 7 in Asia's final round of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, Australia were deprived of an early berth at the global finals by Bahrain, who defeated Qatar by a solitary goal in Group A's other contest five hours later.
Bahrain's only goal was scored by Fouzi Aaish and moves them up to third while table toppers Australia are now agonisingly close to booking their ticket to the finals. A point for the Socceroos, who return to top spot in the section with 13 points, in their game against Qatar in town months would be enough to see them through to South Africa.
With Australia missing out on the chance to become the world's first team to qualify (other than hosts South Africa), the United Arab Emirates hopes of reaching the 2010 finals are officially over after a 3-2 loss to Saudi Arabia. The win saw the Saudis move level on 10 points with Korea DPR, who conceded top spot in the section to neighbours Korea Republic following a 1-0 defeat.
Matchday 6 results
Wednesday 1 April, 2009
Group A: Australia 2-0 Uzbekistan, Bahrain 1-0 Qatar
Group B: Korea Republic 1-0 Korea DPR, Saudi Arabia 3-2 United Arab Emirates
Game of the day
Australia 2-0 Uzbekistan
Joshua Kennedy(66'), Harry Kewell (73')
Up against Uzbekistan in front of a 57,292-strong home crowd at Sydney's Stadium Australia, Pim Verbeek's men were expected not only to gain three points, but to do so in style. However, it was the Central Asians who were first to settle into the flow of the game, as they looked dangerous on the counter-attack. The tide turned eighteen minutes into the second half, though, when the introduction of Josh Kennedy breathed new life into the Aussies. Only three minutes after coming on, the big forward headed Australia in front by getting on the end of a Mark Bresciano cross. Harry Kewell then went on to coolly convert a spot kick and cap a comprehensive victory for the hosts.
Surprise of the day
Korea Republic-Korea DPR
Kim Chi-Woo (87')
Having shared the spoils in their last four meetings, the one-point ghost that had haunted clashes between the two sides was finally exorcised with a 1-0-only in favour of the hosts from the southern portion of the Korean Peninsula. In what always promised to be an even game, both sides carved rly chances to score but failed to convert, with Lee Woon-Jae and Ri Myong-Guk each producing a series of fine saves to keep the game level on 0-0 through to the 87th minute. It was then that coach Huh Jung-Moo's tactical decision to bring in Kim Chi-Woo made all the difference as the FC Seoul man scored the only goal from a free kick with three minutes left.
The other games
Bahrain 1-0 Qatar
Fouzi Aaish (52')
Both sides, frequent opponents in the region, had their chances to score over the course of an intriguing first half. But Fouzi Aaish grabbed the only goal seven minutes after the restart, slamming a fine free kick into the Qatari net. The win not only consolidated Bahrain's hold on third place ahead of Qatar and Uzbekistan, but also salvaged their hopes of moving up into one of the two automatic berths.
Saudi Arabia 3-2 United Arab Emirates
Abdoh Autef (4'penalty), Mohamed Al Shehhi (38'), Ismail Matar (45+1') Fares Juma (70' own goal), Naif Hazazi (83')
Up against a struggling UAE, Saudi Arabia only had their blushes saved by a late goal from Naif Hazazi, who headed home seven minutes from time to seal a hard-fought 3-2. Coach Jose Peseiro's hosts got off to a perfect start when Abdoh Autef sent the UAE keeper the wrong way from spot after only four minutes. But the visitors equalised six minutes before the break, Saif Mohamed heading home an Ismail Matar long ball. The impressive Matar then turned scorer when he hit a rocket from 35 yards into the top left corner in injury time to put UAE into a surprising 2-1 lead. The Saudis piled on the pressure after interval, though, and levelled with 20 minutes to go through a Fares Juma own goal before Hazazi rose to the occasion to salvage the full three points.
Players of the day
Josh Kennedy and Mark Bresciano (AUS)
The Karlsruher SC striker may have been Australia's hero on the scoresheet, but he had to thank Mark Bresciano, whose inch-perfect cross on 66 minutes set him up for the opening goal. The dynamic Palermo midfielder proved the live wire for the hosts in the first half, before providing the killer pass in the second, lobbing the ball just over the defenders and onto the head of Kennedy, who finished with aplomb.
The numbers game
3 - the number of goals scored by substitutes on Matchday 7 in Asia. Tactical changes proved decisive in three of the four games as Josh Kennedy opening the scoring for Australia and Kim Chi-Woo and Fouzi Aaish scored the only goals for Korea Republic and Bahrain respectively.
What they said
"I brought on Kim Chi-Woo because I wanted a technically gifted player to breach the DPR defence. We did our utmost to attack and that is why were able to get the win," Huh Jung-Moo, Korea Republic head coach.