The final round of Asian Zone qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ kicked off with 12 matches this month, and unsurprisingly it was Japan and Korea Republic who flew out of the blocks. The Samurai Blue beat Oman 3-0 and Jordan 6-0, before a 1-1 draw in Australia sent them into the three-month recess five points clear at the Group B summit, albeit having played a game more than their two closest rivals. The Taeguk Warriors, for their part, won 4-1 away to Qatar before defeating Lebanon 3-0 at home to establish at two-point lead at the top of Group A. The South Koreans are followed by Iran and Qatar, who both seized four points from two and three outings respectively.
FIFA.com looks at how the teams’ performance went down within their own media.
The best-ever Japan, Kim hailed
Whether from inside or outside the Japanese camp, the consensus is that Alberto Zaccheroni’s side have improved from the one that unexpectedly finished just second behind Uzbekistan in the previous round of the Asian preliminaries.
"The important thing is that we are improving game by game," goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima told Daily Yomiuri following the thrashing of Jordan, against whom Japan only salvaged a draw through Maya Yoshida's stoppage-time equalizer at last year’s AFC Asian Cup. “I think we’re playing better than we did at the Asian Cup, and we can even improve upon our performance [against Jordan].”
In agreement was Australia coach Holger Osieck, who singled out Japan’s mentality as their most notable change when talking to news agency Kyodo prior to the two sides' meeting: "The change that has taken place in Japanese football is significant. The new generation is a free generation, an open-minded generation. They are no longer afraid."
Socceroos captain Lucas Neill added in Japan Today following the draw in Brisbane: "This is arguably the best Japanese team that’s ever been put out. So let’s give credit to the Australian boys."
Korea Republic are the only side who maintained a 100 per cent record, and it was 22-year-old Kim Bo-Kyung, who scored a brace against Lebanon as Choi Kang-Hee's men avenged their 2-1 loss in Beirut in the previous phase, who caught the most attention.
"Kim kept Korea rocking in the final stage of the World Cup qualifiers with his two goals against Lebanon," read an article from the Korea Times entitled 'Kim leads Korea over Lebanon'. "The winger, frequently dubbed as the next Park Ji-Sung, put the hosts ahead with his first international goal on 29 minutes and doubled the lead three minutes into the second half."
Australia, Iran arouse the critics
Australia’s stalemate in Oman and point at home to Japan provoked criticism from the Sydney Morning Herald: “Following on from last Friday's scoreless draw with Oman, questions arose about how much this team had to offer and whether the old guard had enough in the tank to make it through the World Cup qualification stage.” The newspaper did, however, credit the Socceroos’ heart. “While some may criticise their technical ability and tactical nous, their determination cannot be challenged."
Despite an admirable 1-0 victory in Uzbekistan, Iran also came in for criticism from Presianleague.com following a 0-0 draw with visiting Qatar. "Sixty per cent possession and more than 15 corners were not enough for Iran to defeat a stonewalling Qatar.” Qatari newspaper Raya, meanwhile, was glad that "the national team stars took the Korea Republic defeat like men and got a deserved draw with Iran.”
Elsewhere, the 1-1 draw between Iraq and Oman in Doha, which left them both on two points in Group B, didn’t go down well in either country. "The national team blows the chance to move on to four points,” stated the Oman Daily, while a headline in Iraqi newspaper Assabah read: ‘Our national team drop more points in the World Cup qualifiers’.
Jordan, who prop up the same pool on one point from two contests, nevertheless received support, with the country's biggest newspaper Al Rai declaring: ‘We are still behind you”. Jordan Football Association president Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein told the same publication: "The lessons must be learned and we should have renewed confidence and focus for the games to come."