Heavyweights take points in Asia qualifiers

Asian heavyweights Japan, South Korea and Australia all took

strides toward automatic qualification for the 2014 World Cup by

earning creditable results on Tuesday.

Iran, another one of the favorites to advance, was forced to

settle for a 0-0 draw against Qatar.

Japan drew 1-1 away to Australia, which will be grateful for a

point after playing most of the second half a man down. Japan tops

Group B with seven points from two games with Australia in second

with two points from two games. Iraq and Oman were also on two

points after drawing 1-1.

South Korea won 3-0 at home against Lebanon to lead Group A with

two wins from two games. Iran and Qatar were two points behind

while Lebanon and Uzbekistan had one point each and face an uphill

task to make the top two and qualify automatically for Brazil

2014.

In Brisbane, Luke Wilkshire’s 70th-minute penalty allowed 10-man

Australia to salvage a draw against Japan in a game strewn with

contentious refereeing decisions.

Australia played a man down after substitute Mark Milligan

picked up a harsh second booking in the 55th, and Japan capitalized

10 minutes later when Keisuke Honda dribbled in and passed

perfectly across the face of goal for Yuzo Kurihara to tap in.

Wilkshire equalized five minutes later after Saudi referee

Khalil Al Ghamdi awarded a questionable penalty against Atsuto

Uchida for pulling back Alex Brosque on the goal-line as Australia

took a corner.

Japan also finished the game with 10 men after goalscorer

Kurihara received his second yellow for bundling Brosque to the

ground in an off-the-ball incident.

The refereeing drama went right to the wire: Honda was lining up

a free kick only for Ghamdi to decide he was taking too long to

take the shot and blew the whistle for fulltime, to the bemusement

of Japan’s players and bench.

”The way things went with the red card, we had to dig in,”

Australia captain Lucas Neill said. ”A little bit of Aussie spirit

came into play. We could have gone on to win it (but) we’ll take

the draw. Both teams will be happy with it.

”This is arguably the best Japanese team that’s ever been put

out, let’s give credit to the Australian boys.”

Honda agreed it was a good result.

”A 1-1 draw away is not a bad result,” Honda said. ”They have

a lot of experienced players and controlled the pace at the start

but we gradually got into the game and found our rhythm. We had

more chances from midway through the second half until the

end.”

Oman kept alive its hopes of advancing by drawing with Iraq.

Oman, which also drew with Australia last week, struck in the

eighth minute when Mohammed al-Balushi headed home a cross from

Hussain Ali al-Hadhri.

Iraq star striker Younis Mahmoud equalized in the 37th from the

penalty spot, awarded after Oman defender Abdul al-Mukhaini was

called for a handball.

”Playing against Iraq is always difficult. But I’m satisfied

with the result, even after playing three games in a row without

much break,” Oman coach Paul Le Guen said.

Iraq coach Zico said the team’s hopes of advancing were still

good.

”We need to work hard a lot,” Zico said. ”As we’re playing

with lot of seniors who’ve been there for the last 10 years, Iraqi

football needs innovation.”

Qatar served as Iraq’s home ground as FIFA has banned Iraq from

hosting internationals because of safety concerns in the war-torn

country. The temperature for much of the match was above 40 degrees

Celsius (104 F), since Iraq didn’t have the luxury that Qatar had

last week of playing in the country’s only air-conditioned

stadium.

In Goyang, Kim Bo-kyoung scored the opening two goals as South

Korea made it two wins from two to take command in Group A.

Despite losing midfielder Ki Sung-yeung to injury early on, Kim

opened the scoring in the 29th when his shot went in off the

crossbar.

Lebanon attacks were few and far between and just two minutes

after the restart, Kim collected the ball on the halfway line and

out-ran the defenders to score his second.

Koo Ja-cheol capped the scoring as regulation time expired,

stripping the ball from a too-casual Lebanon defender and lashing

in a fierce shot.

”We are not able to compare ourselves with Korea,” Lebanon

coach Theo Bucker said. ”They are far ahead of us in many

aspects.”

Qatar survived an onslaught from Iran to secure a goal-less

draw. Iran wasted the bulk of possession and good chances, thanks

in part to Qatar goalkeeper Qasem Burhan. It has scored only once

in its first two matches.

”It was difficult as I had expected. But it was a game that

moved only in one direction: Towards the Qatar goal,” Iran coach

Carlos Queiroz said. ”Our inability to find the target cost us two

points.”