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Australia stays top after draw

AUSTRALIA stretched its unbeaten run in World Cup qualifying with a 0-0 draw with Japan and surprise package North Korea climbed up in Group 2 after its 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia yesterday.

Japan had the best of the chances in Yokohama but was frustrated by a resolute Socceroos defense, which kept out Shunsuke Nakamura, Keiji Tamada and Yasuhito Endo to maintain its two-point advantage in Group 1.

In Tashkent, Mahmood Abdulrahman scored deep into stoppage time to earn Bahrain a 1-0 win over Uzbekistan, which moved it third behind Japan on four points.

In Pyongyang, Mun In-guk seized on a clever back-heel from Hong Yong-jo to slot home on 28 minutes and earn three points for North Korea, which fended off a stream of second-half attacks from the Gulf giant to climb to second in the Group 2.

It is a point behind group leader South Korea, which drew 1-1 in Iran.

Having struggled in recent games, Japan fought hard for a win in front of a packed home crowd, with Nakamura's 25th-minute free-kick clipping the crossbar and Endo's potent shot forcing a superb save from Mark Schwarzer.

Stolen the points

Tamada could have stolen the points for Japan near the end when he diverted Makoto Hasebe's volley wide.

North Korea gave its hopes of reaching its first World Cup finals since 1966 a big lift by putting down a deluge of Saudi attacks, with prolific marksman Yasser al-Kahtani troublesome throughout.

Wearing several layers to keep out the cold, the Saudis looked dangerous but struggled with a slew of poor final deliveries and a constantly packed North Korean area.

Seven minutes from time, al-Kahtani, almost earned the Saudis a draw when his stinging 20-meter effort bound for the top corner was spectacularly clawed away by keeper Ri Myong-guk.

The top two teams in each of the two groups will advance to South Africa 2010. The two third-placed sides will playoff for the chance to take on Oceania champion New Zealand for one more berth.

In Tashkent, Abdulrahman scored five minutes into stoppage time to put Bahrain third in Group 1, four points behind Japan.


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