Matchday 8 saw Japan become the world's first qualified team for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, battling from behind to draw Australia 1-1 at home courtesy of talisman Keisuke Honda's stoppage-time penalty kick.
Conversely, Lebanon were the first team eliminated, with their 1-1 draw against Korea Republic at home depriving their hopes of even a third-place playoff. Iraq were rooted to bottom with their chances hanging by a thread.
Keisuke Honda eased the hosts’ worries with his stoppage-time penalty, earning the hosts' a 1-1 draw and passage to their fifth consecutive FIFA World Cup qualification. Having missed out on early qualification with a 2-1 loss to Jordan in March, Alberto Zaccheroni's side finally finished the job with one game to spare.
Playing in front of a 60,000-strong home crowd, the Japanese came out like a house on the fire as they sought to complete their qualifying mission. The Samurai Blue proved to be the better side in the opening half, but the visitors proved equally dangerous on the break, with Robbie Kruse narrowly missing the opener.
Japan further upped their tempo after the restart, with Shinji Kagawa's overhead shot hitting the right top corner, before Yuto Nagatomo forcing Mark Schwarzer into a fine save. It was, however, the Australians that took a surprise lead against the run of play when Tommy Oar's cross-come-shot flew into the top corner.
With the hosts' hopes looking in jeopardy, midfielder Matt McKay gifted the rivals an unexpected opportunity after being yellow-carded for a hand-ball in the area. From the ensuing spot-kick, Honda coolly secured the desperately-needed point, plunging the sold-out Saitama Stadium into wild celebration.
Despite missing star keeper Al Al Habsi and striking-ace Amad Al Hosni, Oman bravely downed Iraq to enhance their hopes of a maiden FIFA World Cup appearance. The result, allied with Australia 1-1 draw with Japan, saw the Omanis lead the race for Group B's second qualifying spot with a two-point cushion, although the Socceroos, level with Jordan on points, have a game in hand.
In what proved to be a scrappy affair, the Iraqis, inspired by newly-returned captain Younis Mahmoud and Nashat Akram, looked brighter in the opening stages. The visitors' good work was undermined by a moment of mental lapse before half time, though, when Ismail Al Ajmi outjumped the entire Iraqi back-line to plant a powerful header home off a corner.
The Iraqis threw everything they had forward after the restart as they sought the equaliser, allowing the hosts with a series of counter-attack chances to double the lead. In the opposite third, substitutes Muthana Khalid and Mustafa Kareem both had opportunities in front of goal, only lacking the necessary composure and accuracy as Iraq returned home with an agonising loss.
The other attractions
In Group A, Korea Republic came from behind to clinch a hard-fought 1-1 draw in Lebanon, a result which saw them edge inactive Uzbekistan to the top on goal difference. Spurred on by the vociferous home crowd, the hosts took an ideal lead after 12 minutes, Hassan Maatouk latching onto a clearance to sweep past Jung Sungryong. After being denied by both Abbas Hassan and the woodwork on numerous occasions, the Taeguk Warriors drew level in stoppage time when Kim Chiwoo fired home via a free-kick to earn them a share of the spoils.
Elsewhere in the group, Belgium-based Reza Ghoochannejhad scored the only goal as Iran grabbed a crucial 1-0 victory in Qatar which put Team Melli's campaign back on track. In an open, intense game, both sides carved out good chances although the visitors enjoyed a slight edge throughout. After missing a series of gilt-edge first-half opportunities, the Iranians broke the deadlock when Ghoochannejhad coolly slotted home.
With Holger Osieck banking on his experienced star players, 21-year-old Tommy Oar stole the show with his surging runs and opening goal. Earning his first start in this campaign, the former Australia U-20 midfielder, who scored the Goal of the Tournament with a last-gasp equaliser in a 1-1 draw against Ecuador during the 2011 FIFA Youth World Cup, repaid the coach's faith with his brilliant display.
What they said
"We are still not close to qualifying to Brazil. We may be closer than we were before but I think we have a chance to get the third place. The match against Jordan will be more than tough and decisive." Oman coach Paul Le Guen