After Korea Republic, Japan and Australia booked their places at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ at the weekend, the results on 10 June mean competition for the remaining automatic qualifying spot and two third-place berths should go down to the wire.
Needing a point away against Australia to seal third place in Group A, Bahrain failed to achieve their goal, slumping to a 2-0 defeat. This result leaves the Gulf side needing a draw from their decisive final match at home against Uzbekistan in a week's time.
Meanwhile, there will be no such opportunities for Qatar, who despite bravely holding hosts Japan to a 1-1 draw in their final game, were eliminated after taking only six points from eight qualifiers. Following the lead of the United Arab Emirates, the Qataris became the second side to bow out in the Asian Zone's final qualifying round.
Over Group B, Saudi Arabia's goalless draw in Korea Republic kept them level on 11 points with Korea DPR, though the latter are still ahead on goal difference. Iran, for their part, notched their first win in four games with a narrow home defeat of UAE to keep their faint hopes of reaching South Africa 2010 alive.
Matchday 9 results:
10 June 2009
Group A: Japan 1-1 Qatar; Australia 2-0 Bahrain
Group B: Iran 1-0 United Arab Emirates; Korea Republic 0-0 Saudi Arabia
The big game
Iran 1-0 United Arab Emirates
Ali Karimi (53')
With Iran coach Afshin Ghotbi and his charges desperate to take all three points, Ali Karimi's solitary strike was as crucial as it was spectacular. After a disappointing first half, during which the home side struggled to pierce the visitors' rearguard, eight minutes into the second period former Bayern Munich midfielder Karimi picked up an Andranik Teymourian pass outside area before outwitting a slew of defenders and sliding a left-footed shot past UAE goalkeeper Majed Naser. The win puts the Iranians hot on the heels of Group B rivals Saudi Arabia and Korea DPR, while victory for Ghotbi's side away to Korea Republic in their final encounter would ensure they finish no lower than third.
Japan 1-1 Qatar
Ahmed Ali Albinali (2' OG), Ali Yahya (53' PEN)
Qatar went into their final game against Japan needing all three points and plenty of goals to give them a glimmer of hope of a third-place berth in Group A. Coach Bruno Metsu's charges were hit by an early own goal, Ahmed Ali Albinali turning Atsuto Uchida's cross into his own net after only two minutes, but battled back for a spirited draw. It was Ali Yahya who grabbed the equaliser from the penalty spot eight minutes into the second half, but the single point attained meant they now have no chance of overtaking third-placed Bahrain.
The other games
Australia 2-0 Bahrain
Mile Sterjovski (55'), David Carney (88')
With Australia already qualified and Bahrain needing just a point, the game at Sydney began slowly and with few clear-cut chances. The visitors had looked the better side after the interval only for the Socceroos to take the lead when Mile Sterjovski capitalised on a defensive error. And after Bahrain had squandered two decent chances to get back on level terms, Aussie midfielder David Carney put the game beyond any doubt with two minutes remaining by steering Jason Culina's bicycle kick into the back of the net.
Korea Republic 0-0 Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia coach Jose Peseiro must be a relieved man after seeing his side survive a second-half onslaught from Korea Republic to pick up a point at Seoul. The visitors had the lion's share of possession in the first half but the tables were well and truly turned after the break. Despite going down to ten men late on after Ahmeed Ateef's dismissal for a second yellow card, the Saudis very nearly snatched victory with a last-gasp header from Naif Hazazi which flew just over. The draw means the Saudis must win their final game against Korea DPR in Riyadh, with their east Asian opponents needing just a point to go through.
Iran's gifted 30-year-old Karimi proved that when he finds his best form, so do Iran. Author of an inspirational display in his previous outing for Team Melli against Korea DPR, he further cemented his place in coach Ghotbi's heart with a stunning winner against UAE.
200 - Karimi's decisive strike was Iran's 200th in 36 years of FIFA World Cup qualifying action. The goal also made Iran the first Asian Zone nation to hit the double-century mark.
What they said
"Although they had already qualified for the World Cup, South Korea showed their excellent mentality and made life hard for us. I hope the two teams will meet again in South Africa," Saudi Arabia coach Jose Peseiro.