World Cup 2014 qualifying: Keisuke Honda drives Japan through to Brazil

Japan became the first team to qualify for the 2014 World Cup with 1-1 draw against Australia, Oman gets past Iraq while Iran wins in other Asia qualifiers.

Japan's Keisuke Honda scores on a penalty kick against Australia on Tuesday and the 1-1 draw qualified Japan for next year's World Cup. Toru Hanai / Reuters
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SAITAMA // Japan became the first team to qualify for the 2014 World Cup after drawing 1-1 with Australia on Tuesday, thanks to a Keisuke Honda penalty kick in the first minute of second-half stoppage time.

Before a crowd of 62,172, Tommy Oar put Australia ahead in the 82nd minute. But Matthew McKay's hand ball set up the penalty kick for Honda, who beat goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer with a left-footed shot to the top corner. One year and eight days before the tournament opener in Sao Paulo, Japan qualified for their fifth straight World Cup and joined host Brazil in the 32-nation field.

"I have achieved one of the goals I was hired for," Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni said. "But just qualifying is not enough. We have a very strong commitment to playing well so we will aim even higher in Brazil."

Japan have never advanced past the second round of football's showpiece.

Honda had missed Japan's last two matches – both defeats.

"Honda is a special player," said Zaccheroni, a former coach of AC Milan, Inter Milan, Juventus and Lazio. "He has two important qualities: he's strong physically and he's strong mentally. That was his first full 90-minute game since November and he was spectacular."

Japan lead Group B in the final round of Asian qualifying, while Australia are third, two points behind Oman, but with a game in hand.

Australia's next two matches are both at home against Jordan on Tuesday in Melbourne and Iraq on June 18 in Sydney.

The top two teams in each group qualify, and the third-place teams advance to a playoff.

"We probably just deserved to get the three points," Australia captain Lucas Neill said. "It's a bitter pill to swallow to concede a penalty at the death."

The former Al Jazira and Al Wasl man added: "We knew this is a fantastic team we're playing against, a very tough place to come and get points. We would have been delighted to get three, but it sets us up nicely now with one."

Goalscorer Oar said. "I think everybody is a little bit disappointed, but I'm sure in the next few days, once we all calm down, we'll see the positives from the game and take it into next week."

Home win fuels Oman optimism

Oman brightened their prospects of a first World Cup finals appearance with a 1-0 win over Iraq in a qualifier on Tuesday in Muscat.

Ismail Al Ajmi headed in a corner on the stroke of half time and Oman’s defence held firm to deny Iraq a goal in the second half to keep them at the bottom of Group B with five points from six matches.

Oman pocketed three points, much to the delight of their fans at Muscat’s Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex, to jump to second position in the group with one more match to play, away to Jordan.

Asian champions Japan, who earlier became the first side to qualify for next year’s finals in Brazil, lead the group with 13 points, followed by Oman with nine.

On a humid day in Muscat that necessitated occasional drinks breaks for the players, both goalkeepers had a quiet first 30 minutes as neither Oman nor Iraq could create scoring opportunities.

Oman woke up after the half-hour mark, but striker Abdul Aziz Mubarak’s spectacular overhead kick from 12 yards sailed over the bar. Iraq stepped up their attack, but  Saif Salman’s effort from 25 yards narrowly missed the target.

Oman nearly doubled their lead in the 68th minute, but Al Ajmi’s low shot was blocked by Iraqi goalkeeper Noor Sabri.

Iran sneaks past Qatar

In Group A, Standard Liege forward Reza scored the only goal as Iran ran out 1-0 winners over Qatar in Doha on Tuesday.

A game that offered little in the opening 45 minutes sprung to life in the second half, with Carlos Quieroz’s side knowing only a win would offer them any chance of progressing to Brazil.

Reza, a former Holland Under 19 international who chose to represent the country of his birth late last year, scored his second international goal in four appearances in the 66th minute.

The victory moves Iran up to third in the group with 10 points.

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