Nakamura on target as Japan beat Bahrain
* Japan go top of qualifying group
(Adds Macala quotes in ninth para)
By Alastair Himmer
SAITAMA, Japan, March 28 (Reuters) - A deflected goal from Shunsuke Nakamura gave Japan a 1-0 win over Bahrain on Saturday, moving them to the brink of a place at the 2010 World Cup.
Victory lifted Japan above Australia at the top of their group in the final round of Asian qualifiers, at least until the Socceroos face Uzbekistan in Sydney on Wednesday.
Nakamura fired Japan in front two minutes into the second half when his free kick from 25 metres took a wicked deflection off Bahrain defender Abdullah Marzooq and looped in.
"It came off the wall but they all count," Nakamura told reporters after scoring his 23rd goal in 84 appearances for his country.
"It's an important three points but nothing's been decided yet. We still have a job to do but we want to pile up the points we need to qualify as quickly as possible."
Right-back Atsuto Uchida smashed a shot against the bar in the 65th minute as the "Blue Samurai" stepped up a gear after a poor first half performance in Saitama.
Japan have now won three and drawn two matches in Group One while Australia have won three matches and drawn one.
Bahrain's hopes of reaching their first World Cup finals suffered a major blow as the Gulf side were left with four points from five matches.
"This win basically means Japan will qualify," Bahrain's Czech coach Milan Macala said. "They have taken a big step and with 11 points I'm sure they will go to the World Cup."
The Japanese play their final three qualifiers in the space of 12 days in June.
"It was a difficult game but the players showed great character," said Japan coach Takeshi Okada. "It was a big game to win but we still have plenty of work to do."
The top two from each of the two Asian groups qualify automatically for the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.
The winners of a playoff between the two third-placed teams take on Oceania champions New Zealand for the final place in the 32-team tournament.
(Editing by Kevin Fylan; To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org)