Japan wins, Australia stumbles in WCup qualifiers
Keisuke Honda scored a hat trick as Japan trounced 10-man Jordan 6-0 while fellow Asian giant Australia stumbled to a 0-0 draw against lowly Oman in Asian World Cup qualifying on Friday.
South Korea, which is expected to advance to the finals along with Japan and Australia, routed 2022 World Cup host Qatar 4-1, and Lebanon and Uzbekistan drew 1-1.
Honda scored twice in the first half, which finished 4-0, and completed his hat trick early in the second. Ryoichi Maeda opened the scoring from a Honda corner kick and substitute Yyuzo Kurihara closed it.
''I really have to give a lot of credit to my teammates. They made great passes all night,'' Honda said. ''We were just focused on getting a win and this will give us confidence for the next game.''
Jordan's Abdallah Deeb Salim was sent off in the 27th minute for elbowing the head of Japan captain Makoto Hasebe which resulted in a second yellow card.
Japan, which beat Oman 3-0 in its opening match of the final round of qualifiers on Sunday, leads the Group B standings with six points. Alberto Zaccheroni's side next faces Australia on Tuesday in Brisbane.
''Away games are always tougher,'' Kagawa said. ''Australia is a good team and we'll have to be at our best to beat them.''
The top two teams in both of the five-team qualifying groups will secure an automatic spot in Brazil. The third-place teams advance to a playoff.
South Korea came from a goal down to win 4-1 in Qatar, which appeared poised for an upset and its second consecutive victory when Yousef Ahmad Ali rushed past a defender and fired a shot that ricocheted in off goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong in the 22nd minute.
But the lead was short-lived.
Lee Keun-ho got the first of his two goals four minutes later when he headed in off a corner. Kwak Tae-hwi put South Korea in front with another header in the 55th and Kim Shin-wook and Lee added bonus goals.
''Coming into the match, I thought it was going to be a difficult for us. There were issues regarding weather, time zone changes. But we got over it in our training sessions quickly,'' South Korea coach Choi Kang Hee said. "It was difficult to lift the tempo in the first half as the heat was affecting both the teams. But we adapted to the situation very well. Now my aim is to get my players to recover quickly and get them ready for the next match.''
Qatar, which was coming off a 1-0 win over Lebanon, faces Iran on Tuesday.
''The players just need to forget today's game and concentrate on the Iran game,'' Qatar's Brazilian coach Paulo Autuori said. ''We're playing three matches in short spells. It's a big challenge. I think this is still a very good team. We played well in the first half. Mentally, we're still strong to overcome this defeat.''
The hot conditions in Qatar were offset by air conditioning in Al Sadd Stadium. That was not the case in Oman, where Australia's attack sputtered in the brutal heat.
With the temperature over 40 degrees Celsius (104 F), neither side was able to organize an attack in the first 20 minutes. The heat forced the referee to introduce water breaks twice in the first half.
Oman goalkeeper Ali al-Habsi also pulled off some fine saves to further frustrate the Aussies.
''Credit to my boys for coping up well with the conditions,'' Australia coach Holger Osieck said. ''In such conditions, our players tried to control but Oman challenged us and did a lot of running. We can do this to a point. It is a long journey and we have to play Japan in a matter of four days.''
Paul Le Guen, whose Oman team was coming off a 3-0 drubbing to Japan, said the result was just what his 97th-ranked team needed.
''To get a draw against one of the best teams in Asia after our defeat against Japan is good,'' he said. ''The players played in a disciplined manner and we had our chances. They gave 100 percent. We did not concede a goal on both occasions against Australia and it is a credit to the team.''
In the other Group A match, Jasur Hasanov gave Uzbekistan the lead just 11 minutes in, scoring after Lebanon defender Bilal Najarin failed to clear the ball.
Lebanon, which lost its opening match to Qatar 1-0, did little in the first 30 minutes in Beirut. But then Ali al-Saadi equalized in the 34th by powering past goalkeeper Ignatiy Nesterov with a free kick from 30 meters.
Lebanon coach Theo Bucker said the result was good.
''Both of the countries we played against (Qatar and Uzbekistan) are far ahead of us in almost everything,'' Bucker said. ''In the last 20 minutes, we were the better team against a side which plays at a European professional standard.''
Uzbekistan coach Kasimov Mirdjalal, who replaced Vadim Abramov after Iran beat his team on a late goal in its first qualifier, felt his team deserved to beat Lebanon. He said the draw added to the team's hard luck after losing to Iran with only seconds left.
''If you added up all the chances it would be enough to fill an entire season,'' Mirdjalal said. ''Fate played a bad joke on our players.''