Australia, South Korea and Iran book tickets to World Cup Finals in Brazil
Late header from supersub Kennedy sends Socceroos through to Brazil, while South Korea scrape in on goal difference following defeat to Iran
Asian football powerhouses Iran, South Korea and Australia reached the 2014 World Cup, but Uzbekistan narrowly failed to book their place on a dramatic night of action yesterday.
Australia left it late before substitute striker Josh Kennedy earned a 1-0 win over Iraq in Sydney, enough to take the Socceroos through to their third successive World Cup.
Later, Iran edged a grudge match with South Korea 1-0 in Ulsan to qualify top of Group A, giving the hosts some nervous moments as they awaited news from Tashkent, where rivals Uzbekistan were playing Qatar.
The Uzbeks smashed five second-half goals past the Qataris, but despite their 5-1 win, they failed to reach their target of winning by seven goals and now go into a play-off series against Jordan or Oman, who were playing overnight. The winner of that game then plays the fifth-placed team from South America qualifying to decide who goes to the World Cup in Brazil.
Iran, South Korea and Australia join Japan, who booked their ticket a fortnight ago, as the only countries to have qualified for the tournament, alongside the hosts.
Although all four Asian qualifiers are familiar names at the World Cup, the year-long elimination process has been hard-fought and came down to the last week of the final group stage. Tensions were high last night, especially in Ulsan, where South Korea's game against Iran had been preceded by some angry verbal jousting between the opposing camps.
Afterwards, South Korea accused Iran's Carlos Queiroz of making a rude gesture at rival coach Choi Kang-Hee and said they expected Fifa to investigate.
According to a Korean Football Association official, Queiroz made an obscene hand gesture at Choi.
No comment about the incident was immediately available from Queiroz. The game was marked by an unusually bad-tempered build-up, with South Korea vowing to "make life painful" for Iran and to force their captain to cry "tears of blood".
The game came to an unsavoury end when hundreds of fans pelted water bottles and other debris on the pitch as the Iranian team celebrated victory.
Choi, who is stepping down as the South Korean coach, said he did not want to comment on his pre-match feud with Queiroz.
"I am not going to comment on that. After this loss, whatever I say may sound like an excuse," he said.
Earlier in Sydney, Australia wasted countless chances in wet conditions, before coach Holger Osieck replaced a visibly angry Tim Cahill with Kennedy in the 77th minute.
However, the towering Nagoya Grampus striker soon justified the substitution when he saved the day with a clinical 83rd-minute header that sent the crowd wild. "I'm sorry it wasn't pretty, but we beat them," said captain Lucas Neill. "We've got to keep pushing ourselves," he added. "Let's look at the positives tonight - we're going to Brazil!"
Osieck said Cahill was disappointed at being taken off but was ecstatic at being on the plane to Brazil. "You have to understand that no player wants to be taken off, but it's my discretion as a coach to make substitutions," he said.
Agence France-Presse, Reuters