SAITAMA, Japan, March 28 (Reuters) - A deflected goal from Shunsuke Nakamura gave Japan a 1-0 win over Bahrain on Saturday, moving them to the brink of a place at the 2010 World Cup.
Victory lifted Japan above Australia at the top of their
group in the final round of Asian qualifiers, at least until the
Socceroos face Uzbekistan in Sydney on Wednesday.
Nakamura fired Japan in front two minutes into the second
half when his free kick from 25 metres took a wicked deflection
off Bahrain defender Abdullah Marzooq and looped in.
"It came off the wall but they all count," Nakamura told
reporters after scoring his 23rd goal in 84 appearances for his
"It's an important three points but nothing's been decided
yet. We still have a job to do but we want to pile up the points
we need to qualify as quickly as possible."
Right-back Atsuto Uchida smashed a shot against the bar in
the 65th minute as the "Blue Samurai" stepped up a gear after a
poor first half performance in Saitama.
Japan have now won three and drawn two matches in Group One
while Australia have won three matches and drawn one.
Bahrain's hopes of reaching their first World Cup finals
suffered a major blow as the Gulf side were left with four
points from five matches.
"This win basically means Japan will qualify," Bahrain's
Czech coach Milan Macala said. "They have taken a big step and
with 11 points I'm sure they will go to the World Cup."
The Japanese play their final three qualifiers in the space
of 12 days in June.
"It was a difficult game but the players showed great
character," said Japan coach Takeshi Okada. "It was a big game
to win but we still have plenty of work to do."
The top two from each of the two Asian groups qualify
automatically for the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.
The winners of a playoff between the two third-placed teams
take on Oceania champions New Zealand for the final place in the