Japan, Lebanon win 2014 WCup qualifers

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SAITAMA, Japan (AP) -Japan took a significant stride toward a place at the 2014 World Cup by beating Iraq 1-0 on Tuesday, extending its commanding lead in Group B of Asian qualifying.

Lebanon stunned Iran 1-0 to get its campaign on track and South Korea managed a 2-2 draw against Uzbekistan to extend its lead in Group A.

Iraq performed creditably after fielding a very inexperienced team, with coach Zico - formerly in charge of Japan - changing the entire starting lineup from the previous qualifier and only using stars Younes Mahmoud and Nashat Akram as second-half substitutes.

The visitors still created some genuine chances but couldn't hit back after Ryoichi Maeda's 25th-minute goal, which resulted from some lax defending. Shinji Okazaki snuck in behind the defense from a throw-in and volleyed in a cross that an unmarked Maeda headed in from close range.

"We knew if we played our brand of football we could get the result we wanted," Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni said. "We're happy to get the three points as we want to qualify as soon as possible."

Needing to finish in the top two to automatically qualify for Brazil, Japan moved eight points clear on top of the standings after four of eight games, though group rivals Jordan and Australia can make up ground when they meet later on Tuesday.

In Tashkent, Uzbekistan was in need of a victory after gaining only a point in two matches to sit bottom of Group A.

It took the early lead through an own goal from Ki Sung-yuengi in the 13th minute. South Korea drew level thanks to Kwak Tae-hwi in the 44th and then took the lead after Lee Dong-gook scored in the 58th. But Uzbekistan's Sanzhar Tursunov leveled just a minute later.

Both teams pressed in the final half hour, with each having chances to win it in injury time. A shot from Tursunov rolled across the goalmouth and Kim Bo-kyung's free kick was punched out by goalkeeper Ignatiy Nesterov.

Lebanon also needed a win to keep its campaign alive. The Middle East minnows have reached this stage of the competition for the first time but a string of injuries in recent months have seen it lose to Qatar and draw with Uzbekistan.

Lebanon attacked from the start and went ahead when captain Roda Antar took a cross from midfielder Mohammad Haidar and headed home a shot from close range. That appeared to wake up the Iranians, who pressed forward for the rest of the half.

The Iranians dominated possession in the second half and Mohammad Nori almost drew his team level when his header was just cleared off the Lebanon goal line in the 62nd minute. Nori had a second chance to equalize but his searing volley was stopped by Lebanon goalkeeper Abbas Hassan, who had several acrobatic saves in the match.

South Korea now has a three-point lead in Group A, with Iran, Lebanon and Qatar on four points. Uzbekistan remains bottom of Group A on two points.

Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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