Australia moved to the top of Group One after a 4-0 rout of Qatar in Asian World Cup qualifying yesterday, while South Korea took the lead in Group Two with a 4-1 demolition of the bottom side, United Arab Emirates.
The Socceroos are two points ahead after two matches as goals from Everton's Tim Cahill and Josh Kennedy plus two strikes from the Blackburn Rovers midfielder Brett Emerton saw off Qatar in Brisbane.
South Korea, bidding for a place at a seventh successive finals, eased past the UAE 4-1 to lead the group on goal difference. Japan, yet to find their feet in the campaign to reach the 2010 finals in South Africa, are now in second place after an uninspiring 1-1 home draw with strugglers Uzbekistan.
In a match delayed by rain, Australia took the initiative after only nine minutes when Cahill, returning after an eight-month absence from the side due to injury, seized on David Carney's header and blasted low into the far corner of the net. Emerton doubled the lead with a 17th-minute penalty and added his second just before the hour when he picked up a Kennedy pass and fired home.
Kennedy completed the victory when he leapt high to beat the goalkeeper Abdulaziz Abdulla and head in a deep cross with 14 minutes left.
"The boys did a fantastic job, especially after a difficult start because the rain came down when we were warming up," Pim Verbeek, the Australia coach, said. "The way we played and controlled the game was fantastic."
South Korea, Asia's most successful World Cup team, were ahead after only 19 minutes through Lee Keun-Ho and just six minutes later Manchester United's Park Ji-Sung doubled their lead.
UAE pulled a goal back through Ismail Al Hammadi after 71 minutes before Lee added his second and Kwak Tae-Hee made it 4-1 in the dying minutes. "We gained some confidence from this match, which should help us," Park said after the game. Iran beat North Korea 2-1 in the other Group Two game last night thanks to goals from Mehdi and Javad.
Japan slipped up in Saitama when Maksim Shatskikh put Uzbekistan ahead in the 27th minute before Keiji Tamada bundled in an equaliser five minutes before the interval. The under-fire Japan coach, Takeshi Okada, who led them to their first World Cup finals in 1998, said the result was a setback. "It's a blow but it's a long road so we have to keep going," he said. "We're not pushing the panic button just yet".
The top two in each group advance to South Africa in two years' time, with one more place going to a fifth team via a series of play-offs and a final decider against New Zealand.Reuse content