S. Korea, Australia Get Closer to World Cup; Argentina Draws

South Korea, Australia and Iran hold Asia’s remaining soccer World Cup qualifying spots after wins in the next-to-last round of games. Argentina’s lead in South America’s group was cut after a tie at Ecuador, and in Europe, Armenia passed Denmark with a 4-0 win in Copenhagen.

South Korea, seeking its eighth straight appearance at the four-yearly championship, beat Uzbekistan 1-0 yesterday to move a point clear atop Group A ahead of Iran, which routed Lebanon 4-0. The Socceroos defeated Jordan by the same score to take second place in Group B behind already qualified Japan.

“The concentration of the players was important and winning will give the players a lot more confidence,” South Korea coach Choi Kang-Hee, whose team hosts Iran next week, told reporters. “Iran are also looking to qualify for Brazil and we remember the difficult conditions we faced in the away match.”

With the winners and runners-up from each five-team group taking the region’s four direct berths at next year’s 32-nation tournament, the final three qualifiers will be decided June 18. The third-place finishers play off for the right to take on South America’s fifth-ranked team for another spot.

South Korea’s victory last night in Seoul was secured on Akmal Shorakhmedov’s own goal in the 42nd minute.

The result meant a win for Lebanon against Iran in Tehran would have guaranteed the South Koreans a World Cup berth, though the home team won with two goals by Javad Nekonam and one each from Mohammad Khalatbari and Reza Ghoochannejhad.

Socceroos’ Rout

South Korea leads its group with 14 points, one ahead of Iran before they meet next week in Ulsan. Uzbekistan, which hosts Qatar next week, has 11 points as it seeks to qualify for the World Cup for the first time.

Australia leapfrogged Oman into second place in the other group by beating Jordan in Melbourne. Mark Bresciano put the Socceroos ahead in the 15th minute and Tim Cahill, Robbie Kruse and Lucas Neill added second-half goals.

Japan, which last week became the first nation to qualify for the World Cup, finished its campaign with a 1-0 win against Iraq in Doha. Shinji Okazaki’s last-minute goal ended Iraq’s chances of advancing.

Australia has 10 points, one more than Oman, and will guarantee its third straight World Cup appearance by beating Iraq in Sydney next week, when Oman visits Jordan.

“We had a big step forward, but we haven’t crossed the finish line,” Australia coach Holger Osieck told reporters. “I made it perfectly clear in the dressing room to the players that the preparation for next Tuesday has started already.”

South America

Two-time world champion Argentina was held 1-1 by Ecuador in Quito and now has a three-point lead over Colombia atop the nine-nation South American group. Segundo Castillo’s header tied Sergio Aguero’s early penalty kick for the visiting team.

Second-place Colombia beat Peru 2-0, Chile defeated Bolivia 3-1 to stay fourth and Uruguay moved into fifth spot with a 1-0 win at Venezuela in yesterday’s other games.

Brazil, the record five-time champion, has an automatic berth as the tournament host.

In Africa’s Group F, Nigeria missed the chance to seal a World Cup berth with a game to spare by drawing 1-1 at Namibia today. Malawi and Kenya earlier drew 2-2.

European Results

Denmark’s 4-0 home loss to Armenia allowed the visiting team to move above it on goal difference in Europe’s Group B. The result ties Armenia’s biggest win, a 4-0 defeat of Slovakia in a Euro 2012 qualifying match.

Armenia and Denmark have six points, four points behind second-place Bulgaria and eight behind leader Italy.

Sweden defeated the Faroe Islands 2-0, giving it 11 points in Group C alongside Austria and Ireland. Germany leads the group with 16 points.

Belarus and Finland drew 1-1 in Group I. Finland, which has only won once in the group, is in third place with six points, behind defending champion Spain with 11 and France with 10.

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