Saudi Arabia’s disappointing form in the World Cup qualifiers, spelled the end for coach Nasser Al Johar.

By Michael Church

Saudi Arabia’s hopes of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup finals suffered a serious blow with a 1-0 loss in North Korea, a result that prompted the resignation of coach Nasser Al Johar.

Al Johar, who guided the Saudis to the final of the 2000 Asian Cup and the finals of the 2002 World Cup, stepped down after Mun In Guk’s 29th-minute goal condemned his side to a defeat that leaves them in fourth place in Group 2.

South Korea top the group with eight points at the halfway stage following their 1-1 draw with Iran in Tehran, as a late goal from Park Ji Sung cancelled out Javad Nekounam’s free-kick for the home side.

North Korea’s first-ever win over the Saudis meant they stayed in second place, one point behind their neighbours and a point ahead of the Iranians.

Al Johar, who despite standing down as national team boss will remain as technical director, has been replaced by Portuguese coach Jose Peseiro.

The 48-year-old Peseiro has previous experience working in Saudi Arabia, having coached Riyadh side Al Hilal in addition to Sporting Lisbon in his homeland. He becomes the country’s 20th national team coach since 1994 and will be under pressure to deliver immediately as the Saudis attempt to climb into the top two positions to earn a guaranteed place in South Africa.

Australia, meanwhile, emerged from their clash with Japan in Yokohama with a precious point following a 0-0 draw that keeps Pim Verbeek’s side on top of Group 1. The Socceroos became the first away team to keep a clean sheet in a World Cup qualifier on Japanese soil for 20 years

The home side dominated for most of the game but the strike duo of Keiji Tamada and Tatsuya Tanaka were unable to find a way past the Socceroos’ defence as the Australians moved closer to qualifying for a second successive finals.

“We are six points ahead and four games to go, so I think we are doing very well,” said Verbeek.

“We need six points more from four games and we have three home games. We have still not qualified but made a big step [against Japan].”

Bahrain kept their hopes alive with a sensational injury-time free kick from Mahmood Abdulrahman giving them a 1-0 win over Uzbekistan in Tashkent as they moved into third place.

Milan Macala’s team are four points behind second-placed Japan and are now level on points with Qatar, while the Uzbeks languish at the bottom of the table with just a solitary point.

“We beat Uzbekistan and it is a very good result for us,” said the Czech coach.

“We still have some away matches and I hope that we will battle for second spot in this group but at the same time I am confident that the players will maintain their battle for third place right up until the last match in the group.”