SAITAMA (Japan) • Takuma Asano and Yosuke Ideguchi were on target as Japan beat Australia 2-0 at home yesterday to qualify for their sixth successive football World Cup.
Asano steered home a left-foot volley four minutes before half-time and Ideguchi sealed the victory with a stunning long-range strike after 82 minutes as Japan became the fourth team to reach next year's Finals in Russia - after Brazil, Iran and the host nation.
The result dealt a major blow to Australia's chances of being one of the two automatic qualifiers from Group B after their first defeat in the final round of Asian qualifiers.
The Asian Cup holders get a second chance at home to Thailand on Tuesday when they need to beat Saudi Arabia's result against Japan in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on the same night.
"This win is for the wonderful fans and for the people of Japan," said a tearful Vahid Halilhodzic, Japan's under-fire coach whose team have an unassailable 20 points from nine games in Group B.
Australia and Saudi Arabia have 16 points but the Saudis have a better goal difference. The third-placed team faces two playoffs to reach the finals, starting with the third-placed side in the other Asian group.
Japan had never beaten Australia in a World Cup qualifier in seven previous attempts but the Socceroos - bidding to reach their fourth straight Finals and fifth overall - rarely threatened in a disjointed performance.
Australia lost captain Mile Jedinak to a groin injury in the lead-up and suffered a further blow with in-form midfielder Aaron Mooy a late withdrawal due to illness.
But crushed coach Ange Postecoglou was not reaching for excuses after his side's defeat.
"The team we put out there was certainly good enough to get the job done," he said. "Tonight's result is on me, it's not on the players. We had our moments but we never really got going."
In Seoul, South Korea were held to a frustrating goal-less draw by 10-man Iran when a win would have seen the home side qualify for next year's World Cup.
Already-qualified Iran played the majority of the second half in front of a 63,000-strong capacity crowd at the Seoul World Cup Stadium a man down after Saeid Ezatolahi's red card but extended their undefeated record in Asia's Group A to nine matches.
Despite China upsetting Uzbekistan 1-0 at home, South Korea could not clinch their ninth consecutive World Cup Finals berth.
South Korea have a two-point lead over both Syria and Uzbekistan in Group A, and will need to avoid defeat by the Uzbeks in Tashkent on Tuesday to book their seats on the plane to Russia.