Iran, Australia Win World Cup Qualifiers; Argentina Pulls Clear

Iran beat South Korea 1-0 to share their group lead at the halfway mark of Asia’s final qualifying stage for the 2014 soccer World Cup. Argentina beat Chile to pull three points clear atop the South American group.

Javad Nekonam scored in the 76th minute in Tehran last night as the host joined South Korea on seven points in Group A, though the Koreans keep first place because of a superior goal difference. Uzbekistan is two points behind after defeating Qatar 1-0 for its first victory.

Australia also registered its first win in Group B by beating Iraq 2-1 in Doha on goals from Tim Cahill and Archie Thompson in the final 10 minutes. Asian champion Japan, which lost an exhibition match yesterday against 2014 host Brazil 4-0, leads the group with 10 points, five more than Australia and Oman, which beat Jordan 2-1.

“We are back on track,” Socceroos coach Holger Osieck, whose team plays three of its remaining four games in Australia, said in a televised interview. “Now with the home games, I think we are now in the position that we can get through.”

All 10 teams have now played four of their eight matches. The winners and runners-up from each group take Asia’s four direct berths at the 2014 tournament, with the third-place teams playing off for the right to take on South America’s fifth-ranked nation -- currently Uruguay -- for another spot.

Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain scored three minutes apart in the first half as Argentina won in Santiago to improve to 20 points through nine of 18 matches in its nine-nation group. Felipe Gutierrez got Chile’s goal in stoppage time.

Ecuador is in second place ahead of Colombia after a 1-1 draw in Venezuela, which moved over Uruguay and Chile into fourth on goal difference. The top four teams secure a World Cup berth, while Brazil automatically qualified as host.

Bottom team Paraguay got its second win yesterday by defeating eighth-place Peru 1-0, while Bolivia beat Uruguay 4-1.

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