Football journalists don't usually think alike. However, having seen their respective nations scrape through in the final matchday of Asia's third round of Brazil 2014 qualifiers, there was a shared mood of celebration among local media reporting on the dramatic action.
For those from Korea Republic, there was a collective sigh of relief after the Taeguk Warriors saw off Kuwait 2-0 at home in a fiercely-contested battle. Needing a point to make it through, coach Choi Kang-Hee's hosts side were made to sweat against the gallant West Asians throughout the first half, only to see Lee Dong-Gook, the K-League reigning MVP’s, break the deadlock on 65 minutes, before Lee Keun-Ho sealed the victory shortly afterwards. "South Korea will live to see another day of football," Yonhap, the country's leading news agency, declared in their post-match report.
Despite winning his first competitive game in charge, newly-appointed Choi was all too aware that the team have their work cut out if they are to obtain one of Asia's four automatic berths in the final stage of qualifying. The 52-year-old told the Korean Herald: "It won’t be easy for us. But we still have three months to prepare, and I believe we have many talented players."
I am privileged to be working with such a bunch of exceptionally talented footballers. We are ready to face any team now.
Surviving even greater scares to squeeze through were Qatar, who needed an 86th-minute equaliser by Mohammed Kasola as they drew 2-2 in Iran to secure the point they needed. "Though the Bahrainis came out with all cylinders blazing to rout Indonesia 10-0," reported an article in the Gulf News, "the draw by Qatar against Iran brought the curtains down on their campaign."
"We did not surrender hope even when we were trailing. I really appreciate this fighting spirit of the players," said coach Paulo Autuori, paying tribute to the team on the Qatari FA's official website. Despite narrowly avoiding elimination, the 2022 FIFA World Cup™ hosts remained undefeated alongside Iran and Uzbekistan, a fact which left the Brazilian tactician with more food for thought. "We have reached a stage where we have to keep fighting," he continued. "The team needs some rest and then we must look forward to the next stage".
Lebanese hail breakthrough
Strugglers even on the regional stage, Lebanon sent shockwaves across the continent after sealing their first-ever appearance in the final round of qualifiers despite losing 4-2 in United Arab Emirates. It was even more impressive that the team, under German Theo Bucker, overcame a disastrous 6-0 opening defeat to Korea Republic to emerge from their section, joining Jordan as the unlikely debutants in the next stage.
In an article entitled ‘Lebanon make history’ from Beirut On Line, their successful coach reflected on his side’s ground-breaking feat. "This game showed where our weak points are but I have to say I am very happy for the overall results,” said Bucker. “No one had expected at the start of the campaign that we would qualify."
Elsewhere, there was nationwide celebration in Oman, where the team’s 2-0 triumph over Thailand sent them through at the expense of Saudi Arabia, whose 4-2 loss in Australia - allied with Oman’s win - condemned Frank Rijkaard’s Saudis to early elimination.
Responsible for taking the Omanis to their first final qualifying round since 2002, French coach Paul le Guen attributed the success to his players in an article by the Oman Observer. "I am privileged to be working with such a bunch of exceptionally talented footballers,” he said. "We are ready to face any team now."