Late magic settles Asian World Cup qualifiers
By Patrick Johnston
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Three moments of late magic helped Uzbekistan, Iraq and Qatar grab key 1-0 wins in World Cup qualifying on Wednesday as Asian champions Japan rode their luck before edging to the brink of a place in Brazil.
Nine of the 10 teams remaining in the two groups of Asian qualifying have been hard to split after numerous low scoring, close-fought matches with Japan proving the exception.
The Blue Samurai have looked a class above the competition so far and are all but assured of being the first Asian side through to the final after extending their Group B lead to eight points over Australia and Oman. Iraq also trail Japan, who have three matches remaining, by eight points.
Alberto Zaccheroni's side can count themselves slightly fortunate in escaping the heat of Muscat with a 2-1 win over a wasteful Oman after Shinji Okazaki scored the winner a minute from time.
"I would like to compliment Oman's players. They showed great heart, and the heat made it difficult for us to play our style. I'm proud of the players for sticking to the task," the Italian coach told reporters.
While Japan can seal a berth in the 2014 tournament in Brazil in their next match away to Jordan in March, the identity of the three other Asian sides that will compete in 2014 remains a mystery.
Iraq put themselves back in the fight for a place in Brazil as the 2007 Asian champions claimed their first win of the campaign thanks to a sharp 86th minute strike by Hammadi Ahmed.
The win for the youthful Iraqi side, missing several of their first-teamers through injury, suspension and personal choices made by Brazilian coach Zico, moved them off the bottom of the group and level on points with Australia and Oman on five. Continued...