There was accord in the media of the three Asian nations who guaranteed their 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualification last weekend. Australia, Japan and Korea Republic who all qualified with two matches remaining, were subject to generally effusive local media praise.
Japan became the world's first team to join hosts South Africa in the world showpiece with their 1-0 away win over Uzbekistan on 6 June. Not surprisingly, the tremendous success saw coach Takeshi Okada hailed as a national hero.
"Coach Okada and his men made a triumphant return after clinching their fourth straight World Cup berth in Tashkent," states an article from Japanese leading newspaper Asahi Shimbun. "For Okada, it will be his second trip to the FIFA World Cup finals after he took the national side to the soccer showcase for the first time in France in 1998."
Japan's fiery baptism at the global extravaganza didn't go their way, with Okada's charges suffering an early exit with three straight group losses. Eleven years later, the comeback coach is confident that his side can more than make amends, with his stated aim being a semi-final finish.
"Booking qualification is just where our challenge really begins," Okada was quoted saying by Yomiuri Daily. "We just have to keep working harder and harder from hereon and I'm grateful for getting the opportunity to try to make it to the last four at the World Cup."
Verbeek eyes next level
Australia's smooth qualifying campaign erased their memory of the numerous near-misses which saw the Socceroos repeatedly fail at the play-off hurdles, with the team being heralded as the "golden generation".
"By any measure, it has been a wonderful World Cup qualifying campaign and few could have asked for much more from the Socceroos," stated an article entitled "Golden era to end on fitting stage" from The Australian, the country's only national broadsheet. "Having now made it through back-to-back qualifications for the World Cup finals, Australia can reflect proudly on its impressive achievement and on a job expertly executed."
Having matched his compatriot Guus Hiddink by taking Australia to South Africa 2010, Pim Verbeek was quick to set his sights beyond the achievements of Germany 2006. "Now that we have qualified we want to do better than last time, and we will do everything possible to do that," Verbeek was quoted in the same article.
Korea Republic also sparked nation-wide celebration by qualify for their consecutive seventh FIFA World Cup finals. The media were particularly proud that the accomplishment was not only an Asian record, but also a feat achieved by only a small band of traditional world football heavyweights.
"While it is definitely a superior record in Asia, with Saudi Arabia trailing behind with five successive appearances and Japan only four, it is also a distinctive achievement across the world, boasted by only five nations, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Italy and Spain." The local New Agency Newsis stated.
Ghotbi's determinationElsewhere, Iranian fans could exhale after the national team kept its qualification hopes alive by collecting four points in the last two matches. In an article entitled ‘Karimi revives Iranian hopes', The Iran Times paid tribute to the former AFC Player of the Year who scored the winner against United Arab Emirates on Wednesday. "The crucial goal brought our team back into contention for a place at the World Cup."
An away win against Korea Republic in the closing match will ensure Iran finishes no lower than third and despite the fact that the Taeguk Warriors remain undefeated, coach Afshin Ghotbi is determined to win the do-or-die encounter. "If there is anyone that can beat South Korea in Seoul, that person is me," Ghotbi was quoted by the Iran Sports Press.