HONG KONG: South Korea, who were World Cup semi-finalists in 2002, drew 1-1 against Lebanon yesterday to leave their hopes of making the 2006 finals in Germany precariously placed on a knife-edge.
Chonbuk Motors defender Choi Jin-cheul put Korea in front in Beirut after just eight minutes but Lebanon hit back to level through Ali Naserreddine in the 27th minute.
South Korea, who have made every World Cup finals since 1986 and boast Asia's best record in the tournament, still top Group Seven with a one point lead over Lebanon.
They face Maldives in their final match on Nov 17 while Lebanon take on Vietnam with just the group winners assured of a place in the eight-nation final qualifying round.
Saudi Arabia, who have made the last three finals, wrapped up Group Eight on Tuesday and they were joined in the next round yesterday by Japan, Uzbekistan and North Korea.
Japan beat Oman in Muscat in Group Three with a goal from Takayuki Suzuki in the 51st minute enough to put Zico's team in the next stage.
Suzuki's vital goal came when he met Shunsuke Nakamuras flighted cross with a powerful header.
We showed excellent mental strength and technique, said Zico. All the players did their jobs and we deserve to go through to the next round.
Oman, coached by the wily Milan Macala, dominated the first half but were unable to break down a resolute Japanese defence as they pushed forward knowing only a win would keep their hopes alive.
The Gulf side had already lost 1-0 to Japan in the first game between the two sides earlier in the tournament.
After opening the scoring, Japan could have had a second goal but Naohiro Takaharas volley was saved by goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi while Japan keeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi also almost caught out by Imad Ali on the hour but Makoto Tanaka cleared off the line.
Iraq, whose Under-23 team made the Olympic Games semi-finals in August, were unable to repeat the magic yesterday with a 2-1 defeat in Amman at the hands of Uzbekistan in Group Two ending their hopes.
Maksim Shatskikh with a 10th minute opener and Alexander Geynrikh, in the 22nd minute, put the Uzbekis in control with Qusai Munir's 74th minute reply proving to be just a consolation for Iraq.
To compound Iraq's misery, they had Haidar Jabar sent-off in the 69th minute.
Uzbekistan have 13 points from five Group Two matches, five ahead of Iraq.
Malaysia, without seven regular players, suffered their fifth consecutive loss when they slumped to a 0-2 defeat by Hong Kong at the Mongkok Stadium here last night.
Hong Kong scored one goal in each half to chalk up their second win over Malaysia in the series.
In the previous four matches, Malaysia were beaten by Hong Kong (1-3), Kuwait (0-2) and China (0-2, 0-1).
National coach Bertalan Bisckei opted to use an experimental side, with only defender Rosli Talib, midfielder Wan Rohaimi Ismail, strikers Indra Putra Mahuyuddin and Mohd Fadzli Saari the old hands in the team.
Team manager Datuk Seri Dr Ibrahim Saad, said in a telephone interview from Hong Kong: The result does not matter because we are already out of the running for a place in the final round.
What we were looking for was individual performances. And some of them played well.