Japan, Korea Republic and Saudi Arabia posted wins on Match Day 4 of the second round qualifying for the Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008 on Wednesday and secured their berths in the final round which will kick off in August.
The top two teams from the six groups advance to the third and final round of qualifying (12 teams split into three groups) which will run through August 22 till November 21, with only the three group toppers representing Asia at the Beijing Olympic Games. China as hosts have automatic qualification.
Kuwait consolidated their position atop the table with an emphatic 4-0 victory over Pakistan in Kuwait City but the group remains wide open, especially the race for second spot.
On target for the Kuwaitis in the home game were Hamad Al Enazi and Badr Al Mutawa, both scoring a pair of goals.
Qatar ran out 4-0 winners against Bahrain in the other group encounter at the Al Sadd Stadium to keep alive their hopes of qualification. Ali Hassan Afeef, Bilal Mohamed, Majdi Siddiq and Majid Mohamed bulged the net for the Asian Games gold medallists.
STANDINGS: 1. Kuwait 10, 2. Qatar 7, 3. Bahrain 6, 4. Pakistan 0
Japan became one of the first teams, alongwith fellow East Asian powerhouse Korea Republic from Group F and Saudi Arabia from Group D, to book their berth in the final round of the qualifying with a facile 2-0 win over Syria at the Al Abbassiyin Stadium in Damascus.
Koki Mizuno (17) and Honda Keisuke (43) had finished the job for the Japanese before half time and despite Syria’s best attempts the visitors stayed in control throughout the match.
With maximum points from four games, Yasuharu Sorimachi’s side will be looking to end their campaign on a high note with wins against Hong Kong and Malaysia in the remaining outings.
In the other group game, Hong Kong virtually ended Malaysia’s hopes of qualifying for the next round with a narrow 1-0 win at the MPPJ Stadium in Kuala Lumpur.
Yip Chi-ho was the hero for Hong Kong, scoring the solitary goal in the opening minute.
STANDINGS: 1. Japan 12, 2. Syria 6, 3. Malaysia 3, 4. Hong Kong 3
Vietnam took a big step towards securing their spot in the next round with a 2-0 win over Oman at the My Dinh Stadium in Hanoi. Nguyen Minh Phuong fired both the goals for the Vietnamese who went to nine points.
Lebanon stayed in touch, also on nine points, after Tareq Al Ali hit an inspiring brace for their 2-0 defeat of Indonesia at the Beirut Municipal Stadium.
STANDINGS: 1. Vietnam 9, 2. Lebanon 9, 3. Oman 6, 4. Indonesia 0
Saudi Arabia came back from a goal down to beat Australia 2-1 in Dammam and booked their spot in the final round on the strength of head-to-head records.
Australia took the lead courtesy of a goal in first half injury time from striker Mark Bridge, but two goals in the space of eight minutes mid-way through the second half from Jufain Al Bishi (59) and Yousif Al Salem (67) were enough for the home team to claim all three points.
The defeat left the Australians tied on five points with Iran who thumped Jordan 3-0, thanks to goals from Hossein Kabi (36), Wahid Amraei (81) and Mehrdad Oladi (85).
Saudi Arabia defeated Jordan (1-0) and Iran (1-0) before slumping to a 2-0 loss to Australia in the previous round. In the remaining two matches against Jordan (May 16) and Iran (June 6), the head-to-head advantage is firmly with Saudi Arabia on the strength of these wins, thus securing their progress to the next round.
STANDINGS: 1. Saudi Arabia 9, 2. Iran 5, 3. Australia 5, 4. Jordan 2
A brace from Nom Jal saw DPR Korea defeat India 2-0 in Pyongyang and stay in pole position for advancing deeper into the qualifying rounds.
Nom hit the first goal in the 58th minute before doubling the advantage and guaranteeing India’s defeat with his second goal 20 minutes later.
In the other group game, a 90th minute strike from Karrar Jassim helped Iraq scrape out a 1-0 win against Thailand at the Army Stadium in Bangkok. Iraq were presented with invaluable man-advantage in the 75th minute when Thailand’s Kriangkrai Pimrat was sent off after collecting two yellow cards and the West Asians successfully pressed forward for a goal.
STANDINGS: 1. DPR Korea 10, 2. Iraq 8, 3. Thailand 4, 4. India 0
Korea Republic, quarterfinalists in Athens 2004, had to bank on a late Baek Ji-hoon goal to keep Uzbekistan at bay 1-0 though the narrow win was enough to secure their berth in the final round.
The match looked destined for a draw when Baek struck seven minutes from time to give the Koreans their fourth consecutive victory. They are the only team other than Japan to boast of a perfect record thus far.
Uzbekistan’s defeat left them in a scrap for second spot with the UAE who beat Yemen 2-0. Yemeni Zaher Fareed scored an own goal in the 50th minute and six minutes later Amer Mubarak doubled the advantage.
STANDINGS: 1. Korea Republic 12, 2. UAE 6, 3. Uzbekistan 6, 4. Yemen 0