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Japan, DPRK notch crucial victories to go top

CELTIC midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura scored the lone goal yesterday as Japan took a big step toward qualifying for the 2010 World Cup with a 1-0 win over Bahrain.

Nakamura's free kick from 25 meters deflected in off Bahrain forward Abdulla Marzooq two minutes into the second half at Saitama Stadium.

"It hit the wall but a goal is a goal," Nakamura said. "We wanted three points from tonight's match and weren't concerned with how we got them."

With the win, Japan moved atop Group A in Asian qualifying with 11 points, one ahead of unbeaten Australia, which will play Uzbekistan on Wednesday in Sydney.

Bahrain is now seven points behind Japan with three matches remaining in the final full round of continental qualifiers.

Qatar, which was thrashed 0-4 Uzbekistan in Tashkent and had a player sent off in a later match, is also seven points behind Japan.

In Pyongyang, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea moved to the top of Group B after beating the United Arab Emirates 2-0.

Second-half goals from Pak Nam-chol and Mun In-guk sparked euphoric scenes at a packed Kim Il-sung Stadium and pushed the North Koreans two points clear of rival Republic of Korea and a step closer to their first World Cup since 1966.

The top two in the group automatically progress to the 2010 World Cup. Having played a game more, North Korea has 10 points, South Korea eight and Iran is in third with six.

The defeat left UAE rooted to the bottom with one point from five games, all but burying its hopes of reaching the finals.

In Saitama, Japan, playing with three Europe-based players in the starting lineup, controlled the flow throughout the match and should have won by a wider margin.

"It was a tough match," Japan coach Takeshi Okada said. "We had a lot of chances but weren't able to win easily. Fortunately, Nakamura came through with a good free kick."

Japan beat Bahrain 3-2 in Manama last September and has two away games in its last three matches, traveling to Uzbekistan and Australia and hosting Qatar.


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