Japan first to qualify for World Cup


Bangkok : Japan became the first team to qualify for the 2010 football World Cup with a 1-0 victory in Uzbekistan on Saturday.

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Japan join South Africa, who have direct entry as hosts, at the 32-team tournament thanks to Shinji Okazaki’s ninth-minute goal in Tashkent.

Shunsuke Nakamura almost doubled the lead in the 76th and Japan retained the lead in the end even though Makoto Hasebe was sent off in the 89th.

Japan, who were also the first team to qualify for the 2006 edition, will play in their fourth straight World Cup.

North Korea and Iran, meanwhile, played to a 0-0 draw in Pyongyang, which helped neither side in group 2. The United Arab Emirates were due to host leaders South Korea later in the day.

The home side dominated most of the game, but Iran goalkeeper Seyed Rahmati pulled off a number of spectacular saves to deny Hong Yong-Jo and Pak Nam-Chol.

Japan, meanwhile, moved atop group 1 with 14 points and are assured of qualifying in first or second place ahead of their final two games.

Australia took 13 points into their game in Qatar later Saturday and required only a draw to go to South Africa next year as well. Bahrain have seven points, Uzbekistan and Qatar have four each.

The two top teams in each group qualify, the third-placed teams meet in a two-legged playoff.

In group 1, South Korea have 11 points from five games, North Korea 11 from seven of their eight matches, and Saudi Arabia 10 points from six matches. Iran hope for a playoff on seven points and the UAE are last on one point.