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Japan 1st team to qualify for 2014 World Cup

- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 4, 2013

SAITAMA, JAPAN (AP) - Japan became the first team to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, tying Australia 1-1 Tuesday night on Keisuke Honda's penalty kick in the first minute of second-half stoppage time.

Before a crowd of 62,172, Tommy Oar put Australia ahead in the 82nd minute. But Matthew McKay's hand ball set up the penalty kick for Honda, who beat goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer with a left-footed shot to the top corner.

One year and eight days before the tournament opener in Sao Paulo, Japan qualified for its fifth straight World Cup and joined host Brazil, which received an automatic berth, in the 32-nation field.

"I have achieved one of the goals I was hired for," Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni said. "But just qualifying is not enough. We have a very strong commitment to playing well so we will aim even higher in Brazil."

Japan has never advanced past the second round of soccer's showpiece.

Honda had missed Japan's last two matches _ both defeats.

"Honda is a special player," said Zaccheroni, a former coach of AC Milan, Inter Milan, Juventus and Lazio. "He has two important qualities: he's strong physically and he's strong mentally. That was his first full 90-minute game since November and he was spectacular."

Japan (4-1-2) has 14 points and leads Group B in the final round of Asian qualifying. Oman (2-2-3) is second with nine points after beating visiting Iraq 1-0 on Ismail al-Ajmi's header in first-half stoppage time, and Australia (1-1-4) is third with seven points and is ahead of Jordan (2-3-1) on goal difference. Iraq (1-3-2) is last with five points.

The top two teams in each group qualify, and the third-place teams advance to a playoff.

"We probably just deserved to get the three points," Australia captain Lucas Neill said. "It's a bitter pill to swallow to concede a penalty at the death. We knew this is a fantastic team we're playing against, a very tough place to come and get points. We would have been delighted to get three, but it sets us up nicely now with one."

Australia's next two matches are both at home against Jordan on June 11 in Melbourne and Iraq on June 18 in Sydney.

"I think everybody is a little bit disappointed but I'm sure in the next few days, once we all calm down, we'll see the positives from the game and take it into next week," Oar said.

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