Aussies hold Japan to stay top of group

YOKOHAMA, Japan - Australia withstood late pressure from Japan to hold on for a 0-0 draw which kept them top of their World Cup qualifying group on Wednesday.

"It's a great result," Australia midfielder Tim Cahill told Reuters. "They've had five weeks preparing, we've had two days. We will take that result - and I'm sure they will too."

Australia lead Group One in the final round of Asian 2010 World Cup qualifying with 10 points from four games, two ahead of second-placed Japan.

"You've got to look at the table," said Cahill. "We're six points clear of the team in third (Bahrain). We're sitting pretty and so are Japan."

Japan produced the better chances in front of 65,000 fans in Yokohama, playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura shaving the bar with a free kick in the 25th minute.

Australia had a legitimate shout for a penalty waved away moments before halftime when Japan defender Tulio looked to have handled the ball but the Socceroos rarely threatened.

Substitute Yoshito Okubo forced a low save from Mark Schwarzer in the 68th minute before the big Australia goalkeeper brilliantly kept out a venomous drive from Yasuhito Endo.

VALUABLE POINT

Keiji Tamada then almost diverted a Makoto Hasebe volley inside the post as Japan poured forward in the dying minutes but the Australians hung on for a valuable point.

"It's frustrating not to take three points at home," said Japan coach Takeshi Okada, who had admitted in the build-up to the game that defeat would have cost him his job.

"We did everything but put the ball in the net. But it's about qualifying for the World Cup. We have four games left and have to keep pushing."

The teams have become fierce rivals since Australia beat Japan 3-1 at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Japan gained revenge by knocking Australia out of the Asian Cup the following year.

"We've not made it to the World Cup yet," said Nakamura. "We've got four games left and nobody's thinking it's a done deal."

Australia coach Pim Verbeek was satisfied with a point.

"I can only compliment my players," said the Dutchman. "We had more of less no preparation and Japan were very dangerous so I'm very pleased with the result."

The top two from each of the two five-team groups will qualify from Asia for the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.