Japan, Aussies delight in draw; Iran held
Japan and Australia played out a pulsating 1-1 draw in their World Cup qualifier on Tuesday although the match showcasing the best of Asian soccer was marred by some bizarre officiating with both sides finishing a man short.
Elsewhere, there was little drama in Goyang as South Korea barely broke sweat to ease as expected to a 3-0 win over Lebanon, while Oman and Qatar held firm to claim draws against former Asian champions Iraq and Iran respectively.
All eyes were on Brisbane earlier in the day where Australia were hosting Japan in the first clash between the two best sides in the continent since the Blue Samurai prevailed in extra time to win the Asian Cup final last year.
Japan had impressed in racking up two big home wins in their opening fourth round matches, but it was the Socceroos ageing squad that caused problems early on with some direct play before the visitors found their skilful feet in the second half.
The momentum heavily switched in Japan's favour on the hour mark after a daft decision by referee Khalil Al Ghamdi, who harshly sent off Australia substitute Mark Milligan.
"How could he give a red card for that? It was beyond my comprehension," Australia coach Holger Osieck said of the dismissal after Milligan collided with a Japanese defender whilst trying to connect with a cross.
After buzzing around the Australian penalty area in a period of sustained pressure following the dismissal, Japan finally took the lead after a neat move by playmaker Keisuke Honda set up Yuzo Kurihara.
Al Ghamdi, however, was back in the centre of the action minutes later when he awarded a soft penalty to Australia after an off the ball incident at a corner, much to the surprise of both sides.
Luke Wilkshire smashed home the penalty and both sides came close to snatching a winner before Al Ghamdi sent off goalscorer Kurihara for another soft yellow card late on.
Fifa vice-president Prince Ali bin Al Hussein had already criticised the officiating seen so far in the opening Asian qualifiers and the performance of the Saudi official, who blew for fulltime as Honda lined up a free-kick at the Australian goal, will surely have irked him further.
It was a far quieter evening for Japanese official Masaaki Toma in South Korea as the home side avoiding another shock loss to Lebanon by recording a comprehensive victory.
Coveted midfielder Kim Bo-kyung scored twice as the Koreans eased past the lowest ranked side left in Asian qualifying.
"Like I said many times before, we're not able to compare ourselves to the Koreans - they are far ahead of us," Lebanon coach Theo Bucker said.
The Koreans will face much sterner tests later in the year away to Iran and Uzbekistan when World Cup qualifying in Asia resumes in September.
The trip to Tehran will be particularly taxing as Qatar found out on Tuesday. The 2022 World Cup hosts escaped, however, with a 0-0 draw much to the frustration of 100 000 home fans.
The Qataris showed little attacking initiative and resorted to time wasting for long spells in the second half as they claimed a point to leave the race to finish behind the Koreans wide open after the opening fourth round matches.