Nov 14, 2012, 4:55 PM EST
If you need some king of clear, unambiguous sign that Asian soccer continues to improve, consider the World Cup qualifying campaigns of South Korea, Australia, and North Korea — three qualifiers for 2010’s World Cup:
- South Korea’s doing well enough in the tournament’s fourth and final round (2-1-1 through four matches), though it’s a slow start for a team that went 4-0-4 during 2010’s final qualifying round.
- Australia, while second in Group B, has only won one of their four final round matches, scoring only four goals in as many games.
- Meanwhile, North Korea didn’t even make the final, 10-team round.
Japan, on the other hand (the region’s other qualifier for South Africa), appears to be getting stronger. After today’s 2-1 win in Oman, the Japanese have 13 points from a possible 15. Holding an eight-point lead with three games left in their tournament, Japan’s almost assured a fifth trip to the World Cup.
The win was more meaningful than it looked. Oman may never be a household name, but in World Cup qualifying, they’ve been tough. Their record is now 2-2-1, their only losses coming at the sword of the Blue Samurai (despite playing in a group with Australia and Iraq).
Coming into today’s game, Paul Le Guen’s side had five points in their last three games. Though most of his players play domestically, they have two noted talents making their money beyond the Omani league: Wigan Athletic goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi and Al-Ahli (Saudi Arabia) striker Amad Al-Hosni. Particularly at home — 4860 miles from Tokyo — they can be formidable.
Australia learned that lesson earlier in qualifying. In June, the Socceroos showed up in Muscat expected to win only to be shutout by Al-Habsi. The Aussies won a point, Mark Schwarzer keeping his own clean sheet, but with Oman coming off a lopsided 3-0 loss in Japan, the result provided a huge confidence boost.
On Wednesday, Oman was just as resilient. The match looked destined to end in a 1-1 draw, Oman having pulled back an early Japan lead while Al-Habsi had kept the Japanese at arms’ length. Then, just before full time, Shinji Okazaki converted on a set piece to give the confederation champions their win.
The difference between Japan and Australia’s results in Muscat exemplifies Japan’s climb. While the Japanese have improved since we saw them in South Africa, Australia has regressed. The rest of the qualifying group (Iraq, Oman, Jordan) started in too big a whole to compete with the Samurai Blue.
Whether Japan’s advantage applies to the rest of Asia — specifically, South Korea — remains to be seen. With the Koreans in Group A and the next Asian Cup not scheduled until 2015, it may be a while before we see the Japanese meat the region’s other power.
Other results – AFC qualifying
Iraq 1-0 Jordan – Iraq got their first win of the tournament, another “home” game staged in Doha. Against Group B’s most generous defense, Iraq needed 85 minutes before 19-year-old Hammadi Ahmad scored from just outside the penalty area, giving Zico’s team their first win of the tournament.
Qatar 1-0 Lebanon – Against a Lebanon side making their first appearance at this stage of the tournament, Qatar got what amounted to a must-win. Naturalized Uruguayan Sebastián Soria scored in the 75th minute to pull Qatar out of last place, vaulting them within one point of group-leading … Uzbekistan?
Iran 0-1 Uzbekistan – A huge win for Uzbekis, and not because it pushed them into first place. With South Korea holding a match in hand, that status will likely change, but after a devastating home loss to Iran that opened final round qualifying, Uzbekistan got revenge. A late goal from veteran Ulugbek Bakayev was only the second goal Carlos Quieroz’s side has given up in five games.
Jan 27, 2015, 11:01 PM EST
Already it feels like Montreal has a major chance to be the winner in this deal, and that’s before they do anything with the allocation money.
Jan 27, 2015, 10:05 PM EST
It certainly wasn’t the wildest of days for the transfer rumor mill, but Manchester United, Southampton and Crystal Palace all said hello.
Jan 27, 2015, 9:12 PM EST
Surely Brendan Rodgers wouldn’t have been surprised to see Diego Costa’s temper flare up, but it didn’t make him any more understanding.
Jan 27, 2015, 8:32 PM EST
An ESPN FC report regarding Gedion Zelalem’s U.S. eligibility looks alarming, but is it a cause for concern?
Jan 27, 2015, 7:17 PM EST
He’s heinous. He’s prolific. He’s the Luis Suarez of 2015. And he’s making this season worth watching and hating. Unless you’re a Chelsea supporter.
Jan 27, 2015, 6:21 PM EST
Liverpool was the superior team in the first 45 minutes, but couldn’t find the finishing touch.
Jan 27, 2015, 5:17 PM EST
The Blues won 1-0 on the match and 2-1 on aggregate to move on the League Cup final versus Wednesday’s winner of Spurs and Sheffield United.
Jan 27, 2015, 4:12 PM EST
Six of eight knockout round slots are filled for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, and a couple well-known names are going home.
Jan 27, 2015, 3:00 PM EST
The Socceroos reached the AFC final for just the second-time in their history.
Jan 27, 2015, 2:20 PM EST
Yedlin flies halfway around the world to link up with USMNT after joining Tottenham in January.
Jan 27, 2015, 1:40 PM EST
Brazilian skipper aims to help Brazil win elusive Olympic gold medal on home soil.
Jan 27, 2015, 12:57 PM EST
Spaniard set to miss at least six months after rupturing anterior cruciate ligament.
Jan 27, 2015, 12:19 PM EST
Monster trade sees cash, players and allocation order’s dished out as USMNT midfielder could be heading home.
Jan 27, 2015, 11:10 AM EST
Wembley final on the line: Premier League giants clash at the Bridge while Spurs head to third-tier Blades.
Jan 27, 2015, 10:15 AM EST
Are the Citizens heading to the Big Apple?
Jan 27, 2015, 9:20 AM EST
Madrid say they have “responded diligently” to requests from world soccer’s governing body.
Jan 27, 2015, 8:30 AM EST
As Sterling continues to stall on a new deal, will Chelsea tempt the youngster with a move back to London?
Jan 27, 2015, 7:36 AM EST
Casillas declares his intention to play in the USA one day. When will that be?
Jan 26, 2015, 9:45 PM EST
Hope Solo’s punishment for repeated alcohol-related incidents could extend much further than her initial 30-day suspension.
Jan 26, 2015, 8:22 PM EST
3-4 months on the sidelines means a massive hole to fill to start the 2015 season.
- In less than five months, Diego Costa has become Premier League villain No. 1 2
- Chelsea 1-0 Liverpool: Ivanovic ensures Blues trip to Cup final after testy second leg 0
- New York, Montreal complete huge trade; Kljestan free to join Red Bulls 7
- Report: Manchester City to play New York City in Yankee Stadium friendly 2
- Iker Casillas to MLS? Real Madrid legend: “I would like to play in the United States” 0
- Chile vs. USA preview: Who’s here to stay as USMNT kicks off 2015? 0