Asian teams face crunch World Cup games

Cape Town: Three of Asia`s four teams at the World Cup go into their final group games still in the hunt for a berth in the last 16, but North Korean dreams have been shattered.

South Korea appear to have the best shot, having beaten Greece 2-1 before losing to Argentina 4-1.

They sit on three points, the same as Greece, but while the Greeks face Argentina next, Huh Jung-Moo`s men have an easier task against Nigeria, on paper at least, Tuesday evening in Durban.

"The Nigeria game is now extremely important and it will decide if we reach the round of 16," Huh said.

Captain Park Ji-Sung added that it was a great opportunity to make the knockout rounds for only the second time in their history, following their semi-final appearance on home soil in 2002.

"This is not different from any other World Cup match. We want to win all of them. This is our last match in our group phase so we don`t want to miss any opportunities," he said.

"What`s most important is that there`s going to be a lot of pressure but we have to play to our full potential, and we have to be confident."

Japan came into the tournament on a bad run of form, but a 1-0 victory over Cameroon and a narrow 1-0 loss to the Netherlands has them believing again.

They have a crunch match in Rustenburg against Denmark on Thursday that will decide their fate. The Dutch are already qualified and Cameroon are out of the tournament with Japan and Denmark both on three points.

Japan though have a better goal difference and a draw will be enough.

Coach Takeshi Okada said it is going to be the "match of their lives".

"We have been given a chance to reach the last 16," said Okada. "This is a chance in our lifetime."

Japan captain Makoto Hasebe said that Okada had told the team to "stake everything on the next game."

"There will be few matches in our lives in which we will have a chance to reach the knockout stages of the World Cup," said Hasebe.

In contrast, Australia has struggled in South Africa, ridiculed at home after losing 4-0 to Germany before a better performance in their 1-1 draw with Ghana.

They go into tomorrow`s clash with Serbia bottom of Group D on one point needing a victory while hoping either group leaders Ghana win by any margin or Germany hammer the Ghanaians in the simultaneous match.

It looks a tall order for the embattled Socceroos, although they welcome Tim Cahill back from suspension.

Skipper Lucas Neill believes they can still repeat their 2006 World Cup performance and reach the last 16.

"There is unbelievable belief within the team," Neill said.

"We are obviously hurt and we`ve given ourselves a mountain to climb, but we`re still here and the nation shouldn`t give up on us because we haven`t given up."

For North Korea, the journey is over after a 7-0 drubbing by Portugal yesterday. They now need to lift themselves for their final game against Ivory Coast, who still have a slim
chance of qualifying.

While not an Asian Football Confederation team, Oceania qualifier New Zealand is also still in the hunt.

The All Whites have been one of the tournament surprises, battling to a 1-1 draw with Slovakia before memorably holding defending champions Italy to the same scoreline - the biggest result in their history.

They face Paraguay in Polokwane on Thursday.

The South Americans lead the group with four points and a draw will be enough for them to go through, while New Zealand could progress with a draw depending on Italy`s result against Slovakia in Johannesburg.

"We`re going to be bloody hard to beat I`ll tell you that," confident New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert said.


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