A few hours before kick-off between South Korea and UAE in Seoul, air-raid sirens sounded in the capital – a defensive measure to prepare the populace for any surprise North Korean attack. It also seemed to signal the start of the hosts’ campaign to qualify for the 2010 World Cup.
As well as the Taeguk Warriors, some of the big boys of Asian football got into gear on Wednesday as Australia and Iran also recorded home victories. Only Japan failed to make it full house after being held to a draw by Uzbekistan.
South Korea finally managed to achieve something that had been beyond them in earlier qualifiers – a good result and a good performance. A 4-1 thrashing of UAE didn’t flatter the hosts at all and it really could have been more.
Lee Keun-ho now has four goals in two games, Park Ji-sung and Lee Young-pyo were lively and despite a moment of defensive madness from Cho Yong-hyung, it was a good night in Seoul.
After struggles to score and a tepid 1-1 draw against North Korea in Shanghai, the pressure was on coach Huh Jung-moo. His team has now scored seven goals in four days to put a smile back on the face of Korean football.
UAE were poor however and the team, with three defeats in three games, look dead and buried and is already adrift at the bottom of Group Two.
Far to the west, North Korea tasted defeat for the first time in World Cup qualification. The 1966 quarter-finalists like to set out their stall and hit on the counter-attack. It is a plan that has served them well this year but it was in tatters after just nine minutes in Tehran as Mehdi Mahdavikia celebrated his return to the national team by scoring the opener.
Fellow European legionnaire Javad Nekounam made it two and around 50,000 of his countrymen were celebrating in the Azadi. They were soon silent as North Korea poured forward and pulled a goal back with 20 minutes remaining. The visitors came close to an equalizer on a number of occasions and but for the impressive goalkeeping from Mehdi Rahmati, would have got it.
Iran were hanging on for the rest of the game as the North Koreans showed why they will trouble the other teams in the group. That group sees four teams on four points.
Down in Brisbane, Australia enjoyed their third meeting with Qatar this year by recording a third easy win. 3-0, 3-1, 4-0 is the 2008 record and it doesn’t make good reading for new coach Bruno Metsu.
The West Asians were brushed aside by a powerful Socceroo side who are now on top of Group One and are looking good for a second successive qualification. Tim Cahill returned to cause problems and the worrying thing for the other four members of the was the fact that even without Harry Kewell, Mark Bresciano, Mark Viduka and Vince Grella, Australia were much too strong for the group leaders.
Still, Qatar will probably be satisfied with four points from the first three games but taking something from next month’s home tie with Japan is vital for Qatar’s automatic World Cup chances.
Japan struggled to a home draw with Uzbekistan, a disappointing result considering that the Central Asians arrived in Saitama pointless after two matches. Like their counterparts across the East Sea, Japan often struggle to turn possession into goals but unlike the Koreans, that has continued over the past few days. Coach Takeshi Okada needs a striker.
Uzbekistan will be relieved to finally get some points on the board and with two home game to come against Bahrain and Qatar – a place in the top two may be tough but there is a chance for the Uzbeks to seriously challenge for that play-off spot.