Thursday, June 18, 2009

World Cup 2010 Qualifying Report: Asia

Group 2

North Korea have become the fourth and final team from Asia to win an automatic qualification spot for World Cup 2010.

The North Koreans went into yesterday’s final round of matches in Group 2 already occupying second place behind South Korea and only needed a draw to confirm their place in South Africa next year.

After a competitive battle in near 40 degree heat, the Saudis were unable use their home advantage to break down a resolute North Korean defence and the game finished 0-0.

That draw means North Korea have confirmed only their second ever qualification to the World Cup Finals, the previous occasion being the famous campaign of 1966 which featured a famous win over Italy and an exciting 5-3 defeat against Portugal.

As for Saudi Arabia, they finish in third place which confirms their place in the play-off against the third-place team in Group 1, Bahrain. The winner of that match will go on to play Oceania champions New Zealand later in the year for a place in the Finals.

Iran started the day knowing that a win over South Korea in Seoul would have given them a great chance of taking second spot in the group but they could only draw 1-1. The Iranians, to their credit, took the lead after 52 minutes thanks to Masoud Shojaei but they struggled to extend their lead and when Park Ji Sung equalised with eight minutes remaining, they had little left to offer.

The North Koreans consequently went into their match knowing a draw would be good enough for them, and as Saudi coach Jose Peseiro said “[they] just came here to bag one point, and they did.”

So the North Koreans become the sixth team on the list for South Africa 2010 and complete a marvellous achievement in their country’s sporting history. Congratulations to them…

Group 1

Meanwhile in the altogether calmer waters of Group 1, the focus was also on third place. Australia and Japan had already taken the automatic qualification places, but it was up to Bahrain (placed third going into yesterday’s games) to earn the draw they need to enter the inter-group play-off.

That they did by beating bottom-of-the-group Uzbekistan 1-0 in Manama. Mahmood Abdulrahman’s 74th-minute strike came after an evenly balanced and tense opening to the game, but in truth the Uzbekis had offered little in the way of decent chances and were unable to find an equaliser when it mattered.

The margin of victory, though small, was good enough to see Bahrain through to a September play-off against previous Finalists Saudi Arabia and it looks to be a tough match to call. More news on that in a few months time.

Also for the record, Australia and Japan played in Melbourne yesterday. The match ended as a 2-1 win for the Aussies, both goals coming from Everton’s Tim Cahill in the second half after Tulio Tanaka had given Japan the lead after 39 minutes.

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