A goal from Ryoichi Maeda lifts Japan to a 1-0 win over Iraq and a step closer to qualifying for the 2014 World Cup at Brazil.
World Cup 2014: Japan take big leap towards qualification
Japan moved a step closer to a place at Brazil 2014 by beating an inexperienced Iraq 1-0 on Tuesday in World Cup qualifying.
The sole goal came in the 25th minute from some lax defending, as Shinji Okazaki got in behind the defence from a throw-in and his volleyed cross found an unmarked Ryoichi Maeda, who headed home from inside the six-yard box.
"It worked just like in practice," Maeda said of his goal. "Okazaki made a great pass and I didn't have to do too much. It was a huge win for us and I am happy to contribute."
Japan solidified their already commanding lead in Group B with 10 points, six points ahead of Jordan, who stunned Australia in Amman with a 2-1 win.
"We knew if we played our brand of football we could get the result we wanted," Alberto Zaccheroni, the Japan coach, said.
"We're happy to get the three points as we want to qualify as soon as possible."
The Iraq coach Zico - formerly the coach of Japan - sprang a surprise by changing the entire starting line-up from the previous qualifier, leaving out stars Younes Mahmoud and Nashat Akram, who came on as second-half substitutes.
Japan's Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa sat out the match with a lower back injury he sustained in training on Monday. Kagawa gave assurances that his injury was "not that serious".
"I felt a twinge in the back during practice when I was on the ball. I had some treatment but didn't want to risk causing the team trouble by playing," Kagawa said, according to the Kyodo news agency.
"Obviously it's a shame I wasn't able to play ... It's not that serious and I don't think it will keep me out for long."
Iraq's next qualifier will be away to Australia next month, while Japan skip the next match day before a qualifier on November 14 in Oman.
Elsewhere, Lebanon recorded one of their greatest football victories when they stunned the three-time Asian champions Iran 1-0 in Beirut to throw open Group A.
Group favourites South Korea were held to a 2-2 draw by Uzbekistan.
Roda Antar was the match winner, with the creative midfielder's 28th-minute strike the first goal Lebanon, ranked 124th by Fifa, had scored against their more illustrious opponents in eight meetings between the sides.
His teammates then defended bravely and wasted time, much to the irritation of Iran, who struggled badly on the atrocious pitch which lacked grass in several areas as the home side claimed the landmark win.
South Korea keep their spot at the top of the group after facing Uzbekistan, who took the early lead on an own goal from Ki Sung-yuengi in the 13th minute.
South Korea drew even thanks to Kwak Tae-hwi in the 44th minute. They took the lead in the second half when Lee Dong-gook scored in the 58th minute, but a minute later Uzbekistan's Sanzhar Tursunov levelled.
Both teams pressed in the final half-hour, with each having several good chances in injury time. A shot from Tursunov rolled across the goalmouth and Kim Bo-kyung's free kick was punched out by the Uzbek goalkeeper Ignatiy Nesterov.
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