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Late winners spare Japan, Aussie blushes
Asian big guns Australia and Japan left it perilously late before snatching vital winners in World Cup qualifying Friday, as South Korea got off to a roaring start against Lebanon.
Australia were just four minutes from a humiliating home draw with Thailand before Alex Brosque's late strike, while Japan had to wait until the 94th minute to overcome fierce rivals North Korea in stormy Saitama.
But South Korea hit six past stunned Lebanon in Goyang to take a decisive first step on the road to Brazil 2014 as Asia's top-ranked sides entered the lengthy qualifying process, which winds up next year.
Aussie goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer admitted the Socceroos' 2-1 win felt more like a defeat against unfancied Thailand, who lie some 98 places lower in the FIFA rankings.
Teerasil Dangda gave the visitors a shock lead on 15 minutes and Australia were not back on terms until Josh Kennedy's 58th minute strike, before Brosque's last-gasp decider relieved Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium crowd.
"It feels like a loss," Schwarzer said. "It was one of our worst performances for a long time and there are no excuses, we weren't good enough at times, but at least we won which is the positive."
Japan put their fans through even greater agony before defender Maya Yoshida rose to head home a cross on 94 minutes as the Asian champions' quality finally told.
The Blue Samurai had dominated play despite missing midfield duo Keisuke Honda and Kengo Nakamura through injury, and coach Alberto Zaccheroni said the result was a just reward for their patient play.
"I think North Korea played their 100 percent. We had to be patient, patient patient, but we were threatening them repeatedly and finally Maya scored a goal," said the Italian.
"We were on the offensive for most of the time and I just waited for the goal for a long time," he added.
In Goyang, Park Chu-Young celebrated this week's move to Arsenal with a hat-trick as South Korea ran riot against the Lebanese.
Park, who was signed from AS Monaco, set the Koreans on their way with two goals in the first half before completing his treble on 67 minutes. Sunderland forward Ji Dong-won scored twice and Kim Jung-woo once.
The winners and runners-up of the five groups will be drawn into two pools for the round-robin fourth stage, with the eventual top two in each section earning a ticket to Brazil.
The two third-placed teams will then face each other for the right to contest an intercontinental play-off.
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