Japan beat North Korea, secure World Cup berth

Associated Press

Bangkok, June 8:

Japan defeated North Korea 2-0 at Bangkok on Wednesday to qualify for next year’s soccer World Cup.

Late goals by Atsushi Yanagisawa in the 73rd minute and substitute Masashi Oguro in the 88th minute gave Japan the win and made it the first team to join host Germany at the 2006 finals. Japan came into the match needing only a draw to qualify.

FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, last month ordered the game match, originally scheduled for the North Korean capital Pyongyang, to be played in Thailand in a stadium closed to the public. The decision came after fans in North Korea rioted after a World Cup qualifying loss to Iran at Pyongyang.

The absence of fans in Thailand’s Supachalasai Stadium was matched by a general lack of intensity on the field. The scoreless first half saw the two sides share roughly equal possession of the ball, and a failure to capitalize on several scoring opportunities.

The pace picked up after the break, and only a fine save by North Korean goalkeeper Kim Myong Gil prevented a 62nd minute attempt by Yanagisawa. But the Japanese player took advantage of sloppy defence 11 minutes later to put his side ahead 1-0.

Oguro dribbled the ball to face the North Korean goalkeeper before faking him out and firing it in to give Japan its 2-0 final margin two minutes from fulltime.

The match ended on a spiteful note when Korea’s Kim Yong Su was red carded in the last minute of the game for kicking Tanaka Makoto.

With one qualifier remaining, Japan tops Group B with 12 points, ahead of Iran, which with 10 points needs only a draw against Bahrain to advance to Germany in 2006. Bahrain trails on four points while North Korea has no points.

Japan hosts Iran in its final qualifying match on August 17, while North Korea travels to Bahrain.

The top two teams in each Asian group automatically qualify for the 32-team final tournament, while the top third-place teams play off for a chance at another spot.

At the 2002 World Cup finals, co-host Japan reached the second round before losing to eventual semi-finalist Turkey.