Australia World Cup celebrations were put on hold for at least another game despite registering a comfortable 2-0 win over Uzbekistan in Sydney that moved them back to the top of Group A in the qualifying tournament for South Africa 2010.
By Michel Church
Josh Kennedy and Harry Kewell (from the penalty spot) struck in seven second-half minutes for the Socceroos, leaving them within touching distance of their second successive finals appearance and the first time that an Australian side will have qualified for two World Cups in a row.
Bahrain’s 1-0 win over Qatar in Manama meant Australia coach Pim Verbeek and his team need one more point from their three remaining games.
“I’m very pleased with the 2-0 win,” said Verbeek. “We had a difficult first half but I think the second half we played faster, quicker and with a higher ball speed. We created more chances. We didn’t give them many chances to get in and around our penalty box and
I think we deserved the first goal and the second goal.”
The Australians have two points more than Japan, who beat Bahrain 1-0 at Saitama Stadium to further enhance their hopes of reaching the finals. The top two from the group go through, with the third-placed team progressing to a play-off with the team finishing third in Group B.
Bahrain currently occupy third spot in Group A on seven points, three more than Uzbekistan and Qatar.
The Uzbeks picked up their first win of the final phase of the qualifiers with a 4-0 thrashing of Qatar’s 10 men in Tashkent. The result leaves Mirdjalal Kasimov’s side with slim hopes of making it through to the World Cup for the first time.
South Korea moved to the top of Group B when they handed North Korea their second defeat of the campaign thanks to Kim Chi-woo’s late winner at Seoul World Cup Stadium.
Huh Jung-moo’s side are now on 11 points, a point clear of their northern rivals, who are level with Saudi Arabia – whose fortunes have been revived with back-to-back wins over Iran and the United Arab Emirates.
New Saudi coach Jose Peseiro has had a perfect start to his new job, with a dramatic win in Tehran costing Ali Daei, his Iranian counterpart, his job at the head of Team Melli.
The Iranians led 1-0 through a goal by Masoud Shojaei only for two goals in the final 11 minutes, from Naif Hazizi and Osama Al Harbi, to give the Saudis a much-needed win as they chase a place at a fifth consecutive World Cup.
With the Iranians now struggling in fourth place in the group, the Saudis went on to record another win, this time a 3-2 success over the UAE in Riyadh. Peseiro’s side were forced to come back from a goal behind once again, with Hazizi this time scoring the winner in the 83rd minute.
“We had a difficult game against a well organised opponent,” said Peseiro. “UAE were the better side in the first half while we managed to get back into the game in the second half.
“I would like to thank the players
for their good performance in the game. I was responsible for the below-par performance during the first half but we managed to get back into the game in the second half.”