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Asian powerhouses qualify

JAPAN, South Korea and Australia became the first teams to advance to the 2010 World Cup finals on Saturday, leaving just one direct qualification place still up for grabs from Asia.

Japan beat Uzbekistan 1-0 in Group 1 and was the first team through for the second time in a row, having also set the pace for the 2006 finals in Germany.

South Korea, the 2002 World Cup semifinalists, outclassed already-eliminated United Arab Emirates 2-0 in its Group 2 affair and reached the tournament for the seventh successive time.

Australia advanced via the Asian route for the first time after ditching Oceania two years ago.

It was content to play out a goalless draw with Qatar in Doha to maintain its unbeaten run and share the lead with Japan on 14 points, trailed by Bahrain (7), Qatar (5) and Uzbekistan (4), still in with a chance of a play-off spot.

The top two qualify directly for South Africa, with the two third-place teams meeting to decide who goes through to a play-off to take on Oceania champion New Zealand.

Shinji Okazaki scored a crucial but clumsy early goal for Japan against Uzbekistan in Tashkent to guarantee the Blue Samurai a place in South Africa with two games to spare.

North Korea missed its chance of securing at least a play-off berth in Group 2 when it was held to a goalless draw with Iran. The draw was a setback for Iran, whose chances of qualification now appear slim.

In Dubai, South Korea was ahead after only five minutes against UAE when Park Chu-young chested down a cross in a crowded area and coolly prodded home from six meters.


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