SAITAMA (Japan): Japan squeezed past North Korea 1-0 on Friday with a dramatic injury-time winner in a politically charged World Cup qualifier spared the full fury of a powerful approaching typhoon.
Defender Maya Yoshida rose to head home four minutes into stoppage time in rain-lashed Saitama in their opening match in the third round of regional 2014 World Cup qualifiers.
“North Korea made us work hard but it was a terrific victory,” Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni said in a pitchside interview after the late drama. “The players battled until the end against a great wall North Korea put in front of us. They deserve credit for the way they kept hammering away.”
North Korea were unfortunate to have Pak Kwang-ryong sent off seven minutes from time for a studs-up tackle on Yasuhito Endo and the dismissal triggered a late Japanese onslaught.
“It wasn’t the prettiest of wins,” said Japan captain Makoto Hasebe. “I hope we’ll give the fans a bit more fun in the next games but there are no easy World Cup qualifers.”
Japan’s clashes with North Korea have frequently been played against a backdrop of political tension relating to World War II, North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and the kidnapping of Japanese citizens.
The Blue Samurai, unbeaten in 12 games since Italian Zaccheroni took charge last October, have also been drawn alongside Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in Group C.
Park hat trick as South Korea thrash Lebanon
A hat trick by new Arsenal signing Park Chu-young lifted South Korea to a 6-0 win over Lebanon in their World Cup qualifier in Goyang, South Korea on Friday. Ji Dong-won of Sunderland also scored twice as Korea outclassed the visitors from start to finish to take an early lead at the top of Group B in the third round of Asian qualifying.
South Korea is looking to qualify for an eighth successive World Cup and the three points were never in doubt after Park put the hosts ahead with a volley in the eighth minute.
Lebanon rarely threatened and was reduced mainly to speculative attempts from long-distance, but was hanging in there until Ji made it 3-0 in the 66th minute. The Sunderland striker headed a cross into Park’s path and though the ensuing shot was saved by the goalkeeper, Ji shot the rebound into an empty net.
Seconds later, Park completed his hat trick with a low shot from the right side of the area. Kim Jung-woo got on the scoresheet in the 82nd minute and Ji made it half a dozen in the 85th.
Aussies rally to beat Thais 2-1
Striker Alex Brosque scored in the 86th minute to give Australia a 2-1 win over Thailand and help avoid an embarrassing start for the Socceroos in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.
Brosque scored the winner with a left-footed tap-in, completing the hosts’ comeback from a first-half deficit.
Striker Teerasil Dengda had given Thailand a shock 1-0 lead in the 15th minute on a perfectly executed 70-meter counter-attack despite Australia dominating possession. Josh Kennedy equalized for Australia in the 58th. (Agencies)