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Mission accomplished.

News photoJapan under-22 midfielder Keisuke Yoshida (8) celebrates with his teammates after Japan qualified for
the 2008 Beijing Olympics after an 0-0 draw with Saudi Arabia in their Asian qualifying match on
Wednesday at Tokyo’s National Stadium.
KYODO PHOTO

Japan secured a berth at next year’s Beijing Olympics after getting the point they needed with a 0-0 draw against Saudi Arabia in their final Asian zone Group C qualifier on Wednesday.

Having thrashed Vietnam 4-0 on Saturday to go two points clear at the top of the group, Japan needed only a draw against the Saudis to guarantee a ticket to China.

Yasuharu Sorimachi’s men survived a few scary moments early on in chilly conditions at National Stadium but held firm and ground out the result to finish at the top of the group.

“The Saudis attacked us and we couldn’t play as well as we wanted but we defended solidly and my players showed the strong mentality of Japanese people tonight,” said Japan coach Sorimachi.

“Now we can give the good news to (senior national team coach) Osim-san,” said Sorimachi, referring to Ivica Osim, who is unconscious in hospital after suffering a stroke last Friday.

“He (Osim) has been battling hard and so did my players. Now we can go to Beijing,” said Sorimachi.

Japan opened cautiously and Saudi Arabia were desperately unlucky not to take the lead after nine minutes.

Japan goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa spilled a shot by Mohammed Al Salawi but Toshihiro Aoyama made a crucial goal line block to deny Saleh Al Ghwainim as the midfielder tried to prod home the rebound.

Japan looked bereft of ideas going forward but Tadanari Lee saw a shot flash wide after 27 minutes and perhaps should have done better when he met Keisuke Honda’s cross at the far post three minutes before the break.

The home side turned up the heat in the second half but found Waleed Ali in inspired form, the Saudi ‘keeper producing superb saves from Lee in the 51st minute and then Hajime Hosogai moments later.

It was Shinji Okazaki’s turn to try his luck next but the Shimizu S-Pulse man blazed just over the bar 11 minutes from time with Japan’s last opportunity of the match.

Saudi’s assistant coach Omar Bakhashwein was quick to congratulate Japan on reaching the Olympics.

“We tried our best but could not succeed and Japan really dug their heels in today and congratulations to them,” said Bakhashwein.

Aussies earn spot

PYONGYANG (Kyodo) Australia won a spot in the men’s soccer tournament at next year’s Beijing Olympics after a 1-1 draw on Wednesday with North Korea in the final round of qualifiers in Asian zone Group A.

North Korea took the lead 10 minutes into the game, but Australia’s second-half equalizer gave them a spot in the Olympics for the sixth games in a row.

“We are very honored because we are the first Australian football team that has qualified for a major tournament for Asia,” Australian coach Graham Arnold said.

“We’re learning a lot in Asia with the conditions. . .that we’re not used to as Australians,” he said. “We played North Korea here. . .in freezing cold weather. So I’m very proud of my players.”

Pyongyang saw a second straight day of snow, with the streets of the North Korean capital covered in a thin layer of white by early Wednesday.

“It was okay for the first half,” said North Korean coach Jo Tong Sop. “I think speed was the reason for our failure in this game.”

The Kim Il Sung stadium in central Pyongyang, which has a capacity of 100,000 people, was about a third full. Seats were filled mostly by locals but also by a small group of non-Korean tourists and diplomats.

“I came because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see your home country play in North Korea,” said Sam Bateman, an Australian living in Beijing who joined a tour and traveled to Pyongyang for the occasion.

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