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The most dramatic day in Asian World Cup qualifying

Published on: 21 March 2017

Kuala Lumpur: October 28, 1993. It was the most dramatic day in Asian World Cup qualifying.

It was a scenario to excite the number crunchers, and induce feelings of nearly unbearable stress and anxiety for football fans across Asia.

Six national teams, five of which were still in contention, would play out three simultaneous matches in Doha to decide which two countries would represent Asia at the 1994 FIFA World Cup.

One point separated first and fifth places on the six-team table, with only DPR Korea eliminated, while Japan – who had never reached the World Cup finals – stood one win away from a guaranteed ticket to the United States.

Their opponents Iraq would leapfrog them with a win, while Saudi Arabia knew beating Islamic Republic of Iran, who were also still in contention, would guarantee their own maiden FIFA World Cup appearance.

Meanwhile, Korea Republic, chasing an unprecedented third consecutive finals appearance, had the task of beating DPR Korea and hoping either Japan or Saudi Arabia slipped up.

 

P

W

D

L

Pts

+/-

Japan

4

2

1

1

5

3

Saudi Arabia

4

1

3

0

5

1

Korea Republic

4

1

2

1

4

2

Iraq

4

1

2

1

4

0

Iran

4

2

0

2

4

-2

DPR Korea

4

1

0

3

2

-4

*Wins worth 2 points, draws worth 1 point

With all three matches kicking off at the same time, and live online score updates a thing of the (not too distant) future, it would be quite plausible that teams could finish their matches not knowing if they had done enough to qualify.

Japan and the Saudis knew wins would get them to USA '94, but all Korea Republic, Iraq and Iran could do was win and hope the other results fell their way.

First half
Of the three venues around Doha hosting the crucial matches, Al Ahly Stadium was the first to explode into life as Japan took the lead within five minutes against Iraq to further improve their likelihood of qualification.

After a wayward Iraqi pass in the middle of the pitch, Kenta Hasegawa got on the end of a Japanese counter-attack and sent a fierce strike into the crossbar, before team star Kazuyoshi Muira arrived to almost instantly head the ball into the net on the rebound.

For Miura, a leading light of a burgeoning J.League then in its inaugural season, it was his 18th international goal and a remarkable 13th in 1994 World Cup qualifying.

Fifteen minutes later, and around 12 kilometres away at a much fuller Khalifa International Stadium, Saudi Arabia - the other team chasing their first World Cup appearance - took a lead of their own against rivals Iran.

Twenty-year-old Al Hilal marksman Sami Al Jaber beat the offside trap before lobbing the ball over helpless goalkeeper Behzad Gholampour to put the Saudis in front to delight the majority of the 40,000 in attendance.

After 27 minutes Saudi Arabia added a second when Fahad Al Mehallel’s left foot drive beat Gholampour to give the Saudis a two-goal lead and Iran a mountain to climb if they were to reach the finals for the first time since 1978.

Team Melli did make some progress when a superbly struck free kick by Menoun Fonounizadeh reduced the deficit just before half time.

In the third match, held at the Qatar Sports Club, Korea Republic had not yet been able to find a goal against their already-eliminated neighbours DPR Korea and – with neither of the other matches going to plan – must have wondered whether their run of appearances on the biggest stage would soon come to an end.

Half-time standings

 

P

W

D

L

Pts

+/-

Japan

5

3

1

1

7

4

Saudi Arabia

5

2

3

0

7

2

Korea Republic

5

1

3

1

5

2

Iraq

5

1

2

2

4

-1

Iran

5

2

0

3

4

-3

DPR Korea

5

1

1

3

3

-4

Ten Minutes of Madness

Remarkably, the first ten minutes of the second half saw five goals scored across the three matches, and completely re-organised the live league table.

First, Mansour Al Mousa restored Saudi Arabia’s two-goal lead over Iran with a simple close range finish when Iran’s defence was comprehensively unlocked by the Saudis.

Next, Korea Republic finally broke the deadlock in their match, when they punished DPR Korea for an awful misplaced pass, which provided an opportunity to set up winger Ko Jeong-woon, who powered home a header from close range.

With the pressure released, the Taeguk Warriors began to play with more freedom, and scored again just three minutes later when more poor defending saw a simple long ball catch the DPR Korea defence cold and provide Pohang Steelers forward Hwang Sun-hong with an easy finish from 12 yards.

After going into half-time goalless, the Koreans were now firmly in control of the match, but not their destiny, and they still needed either Iran or Iraq to hit back in the other matches.

Both teams, almost instantly, did just that.

At almost the same time Hwang made it 2-0 at Qatar Sports Club. Fonounizadeh scored another superb goal from outside the penalty area to make the score 3-2 and bring Iran to within one goal for the second time, but a goal of even more value to the Koreans was scored at Al Ahly Stadium a minute later.

Iraq came out firing after the break and found a deserved equaliser through Radhi Shenaishil, which – coupled with Korea Republic’s two quick goals – meant Japan would be eliminated if results were to stay as they were.

But the Samurai Blue weren’t going to give up on their World Cup dream easily, and they forced themselves back in front 15 minutes later when Mashahi Nakayama beat the offside trap to poke the ball past Iraq goalkeeper Saad and put his country back on track.

Elsewhere, prolific Ohud striker Hamzah Idris practically shut the door on Iran, and sent his country into national celebration when he headed home from close range to make the score 4-2 and practically secure Saudi Arabia’s first ever appearance at a FIFA World Cup.

One minute later Korea Republic added a third goal against DPR Korea to effectively end their match as a contest, and rule out any goal difference concerns as the Japan-Iraq match approached it’s tense conclusion.

The Agony, and Miracle, of Doha

With the other two matches more or less resolved, everything came down to the Japan-Iraq match at the Al-Ahly Stadium.

Japan - struggling somewhat in the hot Doha conditions - were anxiously holding the Iraqis at bay, but only needed to hold on to their 2-1 to make history by qualifying for the World Cup for the first time.

The Iraqis were theoretically still in contention with a win, and while Korea Republic’s three goals in 25 minutes had effectively dashed their chances of qualification, they continued to push on.

In the 91st minute, Iraq substitute Jaffar Omran Salman broke Japanese hearts when his looping header left Japan goalkeeper Shigenatsu Matsunaga stranded and nestled into the net.

The contrast in the reactions of the two sets of players was palpable.

The Iraqis dashed to pick the ball out of the net and rush it back to the centre of the pitch, still dreaming of an unlikely miracle, but Japan’s dream had been shattered, and the penalty area was littered with motionless, disbelieving Japanese defenders.

Japan had been denied a first appearance at the FIFA World Cup in the cruelest possible fashion, but it meant Korea Republic had been saved, a scenario greeted with delight in Seoul.

When the full-time whistle was blown in the Korea Republic-DPR Korea match, the Korea Republic players were unaware of events across town and assumed their 3-0 win was a case of “too little, too late”, but once news of Salman’s injury-time dagger reached the Qatar Sports Club, disappointment gave way to joyous celebration.

Japan’s loss was Korea Republic’s gain. One team’s agony was another’s miracle.

To cap off an incredibly dramatic two hours of Asian football – perhaps the most dramatic in history - Iran pulled back another goal against Saudi Arabia to make the final score 4-3, but it wasn’t enough to make any difference to the table.

The most dramatic two hours in the history of Asian World Cup qualification was over.

For Saudi Arabia and Korea Republic, seven months to prepare for the greatest show on earth; For the unlucky others, four more years in the football wilderness.

Final Results and Standings

Saudi Arabia 4 (Al-Jaber 21’, Al-Mehallel 27’, Al-Mousa 47’, Falatah 74’)
Iran 3 (Fonounizadeh 43’, 53’, Manafi 90’)

Korea Republic 3 (Ko Jeong-woon 49’, Hwang Sun-hong 53’, Ha Seok-ju 75’)
DPR Korea 0

Japan 2 (Miura 5’, Nakayama 69’)
Iraq 2 (Shenaishil 54’, Salman 90+1’)

 

P

W

D

L

Pts

+/-

Saudi Arabia

5

2

3

0

7

2

Korea Republic

5

2

2

1

7

5

Japan

5

2

2

1

5

3

Iraq

5

1

3

1

4

0

Iran

5

2

0

3

4

-3

DPR Korea

5

1

0

4

3

-7

Postscript

Saudi Arabia went on to excel at the World Cup in the United States, advancing to the knockout stage with memorable wins over Belgium and Morocco.

The team’s run - ended by Sweden in the round of 16 – was impressive, but the Saudis of 1994 are remembered for a individual run which saw Saeed Al Owairan (pictured) collect the ball in his own half before running 60 yards and scoring one of the greatest World Cup goals.

The other qualifiers, Korea Republic, were also competitive, earning draws against Spain and Bolivia, before being eliminated after a 3-2 loss to reigning world champions Germany.

For those who missed out, focus turned to France 98, but Iraq were knocked out in the first round of qualifying by Kazakhstan, and DPR Korea didn’t even enter the qualifying tournament.

Iran overcame the disappointment of their failed 1994 campaign by developing one of their greatest teams of the modern era to qualify for the 1998 World Cup in France, and defeat the United States in one of Team Melli’s greatest ever moments.

And Japan, so cruelly denied in October 1993, overcame their heartbreak four years to finally secure qualification with a 3-2 extra time win over Iran in Malaysia, with 1993 goalscorer Nakayama again on the scoresheet.

They haven’t missed a World Cup since.

The other goal-scorer from the Iraq draw in 1993, Kazuyoshi Miura, was sensationally dropped on the eve of the 1998 World Cup and, despite his legendary status, never appeared on the world’s greatest stage.

Photo: AFP

Source: the-afc.com

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