Japan, Lebanon win 2014 WCup qualifiers


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -Japan took a significant stride toward a place at the 2014 World Cup by beating Iraq 1-0 on Tuesday in Group B while Australia's campaign suffered a setback when it stumbled to a 2-1 loss to Middle East minnow Jordan.

Lebanon also stunned Iran 1-0 to get its campaign on track in Group A 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 six points clear on top of the standings after four of eight games. Jordan is second with four points followed by Australia, Qatar and Oman on two.

Australia has played in three World Cups and is one of the favorites alongside Japan to automatically qualify. But its aging lineup has failed to deliver, settling for two draws and the embarrassing loss to Jordan.

Jordan has never reached a World Cup and is ranked 87th in the world, but opened the scoring courtesy of a 50th-minute penalty from Hassan Abdul Fattah after Australia's Matt Mckay tackled Oday al-Saifi. It doubled its lead in the 72nd when al-Saifi penetrated the Australia defense and passed to Amer Deeb who scored.

Australia pulled a goal back in the 85th, when Archie Thompson stole the ball just outside the area and fired a low shot past diving keeper Amer Shafi.

"It is just an amazing match for us and winning four points is absolutely precious for Jordan," Deeb said. "Nothing can express the way we feel today."

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.

"Uzbekistan played better than I thought they would. They scored early and had the advantage," South Korea Coach Choi Kang-hee said. "I hope that we will play better in the upcoming matches, but I am satisfied with the result."

Uzbekistan coach Mirdjalal Kasimov said he was happy with his side's performance, despite the fact the draw leaves it bottom of Group A. The team has struggled with injuries of late and was without four key players for the match, including midfielder Odil Akhmedov. It also has a new coach after firing Vadim Abramov after it lost to Iran in its first qualifying match.

"I want to thank the players and the fans, the boys played until the last minute. We had chances to score the winning goal, but we could also have conceded, so I am pleased with the result," Kasimov said.

Lebanon also needed a win to keep its campaign alive. It 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.

The Cedars attacked from the start and went ahead when captain Roda Antar, returning from a knee injury that kept him out for three games, 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 Noori almost drew his team level when his header was just cleared off the Lebanon goal line in the 62nd minute. Noori had a second chance to equalize but his searing volley was stopped by Lebanon goalkeeper Abbas Hassan. The acrobatic Hassan then twice denied Javad Nekounam in the closing minutes - turning aside a powerful volley from just inside the box and diving low to keep out the Iran captain's header from the resulting corner.

It was the first victory for Lebanon over Iran in seven meetings and moves it into contention for one of two spots to automatically qualify for the World Cup from Group A. South Korea leads the group on seven points but now Lebanon is tied with Qatar and Iran on four points. Uzbekistan is last with two points.

"We had a good performance today and I'm happy with what the players showed in the game," Lebanon coach Theo Bucker said. "We showed that we are capable of getting good results and now we have a good chance after this win to qualify, although we must work hard."

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz said Hassan's performance made the difference in the game.

"Congratulations to Lebanon who won with the least possible effort," Queiroz said. "We had a good match and had a great performance but Lebanon had a good goalkeeper who had a great game and denied us a lot of times."

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 2016 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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