Japan Beats Oman to Close in on Fifth Straight World Cup Berth

Japan moved closer to its fifth straight appearance at soccer’s World Cup by beating Oman 2-1, while Uzbekistan went atop its qualifying group after defeating Iran 1-0.

Shinji Okazaki’s goal in the 89th minute last night handed Oman its first home loss in Asia’s final qualifying stage for the 2014 tournament in Brazil. Japan tops Group B with 13 points after five of eight matches.

“We kept chipping away and found a way to win in the end,” Okazaki said on the website of tournament organizer FIFA. “We weren’t in control today.”

The winners and runners-up from each five-team group take the region’s four direct berths in the 2014 tournament, with the third-place teams playing off for the right to take on South America’s fifth-ranked nation for another spot.

Iraq improved its qualifying chances by beating Jordan 1-0 on Hammadi Ahmed’s goal in the 86th minute. Iraq is tied for second place in Group B with Australia and Oman with five points, one more than Jordan. The Socceroos have played one game fewer than their rivals and play three of their four remaining matches at home.

Ulughbek Bakaev scored the only goal as Uzbekistan won in Tehran to take the Group A lead with eight points. Qatar beat Lebanon 1-0 to tie Iran and South Korea, which has played one game fewer, for second place with seven points.

The next round of qualifying matches in Asia is scheduled for March 26.

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