2014 World Cup: Breakdown of Wednesday's World Cup Qualifiers and What They Mean
While the likes of the United States, England, Italy and France were grabbing all of Wednesday's headlines with their mouthwatering friendly matches, some other encounters on the vast international football day actually bore importance.
Six World Cup qualifiers across two continents pushed us that much closer to the tournament, sending some teams to the brink of elimination and others to the cusp of the booking their tickets to Brazil.
So how did these matches play out? And what do the results mean for layout of the qualification process?
Let's look at each of these matches.
Oman 1-2 Japan
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Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa wasn't fit enough to make the trip to Oman, but that didn't stop his Japan side from getting a huge win in this match in Asia's Group B.
Hiroshi Kiyotake broke the deadlock in the 20th minute with a goal created by Yuto Nagatomo's fantastic cross.
Ater pressing for the best part of the rest of the match, Oman finally got a lifeline through a 77th minute goal on an Ahmed Mubarak free kick.
With the match seemingly destined for a draw, Stuttgart's Shinji Okazaki popped up in the 89th minute and slotted a ball past Wigan's Ali Al-Habsi to give Japan all three points.
The win pushes Japan ever closer to booking their place in the World Cup, as they sit eight points clear of the group's third-placed team with three matches to go. With a spot in the playoff already booked (if everything goes very, very wrong for them), Japan are clear favorites to become the second team (after hosts Brazil) to qualify for the World Cup.
Meanwhile, Oman now sits in fourth place, level on points with the second-placed team (though behind in goal differential) and just a point clear of last. Oman definitely have some work to do to make a push for Brazil.
Iraq 1-0 Jordan
Hammadi Ahmed's late strike gave Iraq a huge victory, breathing life into their World Cup qualifying campaign.
The Iraqis now sit in third place in Asia's Group B, in line for a playoff spot and level on points for the second qualifying spot. However, they are also just one point clear of last place, so the job is certainly far from over.
Meanwhile, Jordan are that team in last place. After their famous victory over Australia in September, the Jordanians have really struggled for results.
They are in desperate need of some favorable results heading into their final three matches, a tough proposition considering they still have a match with Japan and a rematch with Australia looming.
Qatar 1-0 Lebanon
AP Photo/Osama Faisal
In a battle at the bottom of Asia's Group A, Qatar put themselves right back into World Cup contention with another late winner.
It was Qatar's naturalized Uruguayan, Sebastian Soria, who did the business with a beautiful 20-yard strike that bent around the keeper.
The win puts Qatar—hosts of the 2022 World Cup—in fourth place, though level on points with second.
Meanwhile, the loss sends Lebanon deeper into last, three points behind their closest rivals.
Iran 0-1 Uzbekistan
In what was probably the biggest surprise of the day, Uzbekistan got a big win in Iran to throw Group A into disarray.
The Uzbeks completely flipped the script from the two teams' first encounter in the group, as they pulled off the late road winner.
Iran had a great chance to equalize in stoppage time, but the goal was disallowed for offside.
The result pushes Uzbekistan up into the group's top spot while sending Iran to third. However, Uzbekistan sit just one point ahead of the fourth-placed Qatar, while second-placed South Korea has a match in hand over every other team.
Montenegro 3-0 San Marino
While England's 4-2 loss to Zlatan Ibrahimovic (him, not his team) did not hurt their chances at the World Cup, they were still able to fall out of first place in their group thanks to a Montenegro victory.
The match was fairly predictable given how poor San Marino seems to be in terms of talent. I mean, they have now scored zero goals and allowed 16 through their first four matches.
Still, the result is even more disturbing for England. Remember how much trouble they had with Montenegro in Euro 2012 qualifying?
If Montenegro can avoid the same kind of let down it did in that campaign, they could be a huge threat to make it to the World Cup.
Northern Ireland 1-1 Azerbaijan
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Azerbaijan's fifth-minute strike from Rauf Aliyev seemed to put the team on track for a huge victory that would revive their already-flickering World Cup hopes.
Instead, Northern Ireland struck back in the 96th minute, breaking Azerbaijani hearts and sending their fans into delirium.
The result means that Northern Ireland remains in fourth place and Azerbaijan in fifth, with Northern Ireland holding a one-point advantage.
However, Northern Ireland is still four points behind third place. With only two teams from their group even having a shot at the World Cup, both teams are in pretty grave shape.
Harold Cunningham/Getty Images
So there's the action from today.
Have any opinions on what happened? What do you see happening in each group?
Let me know in the comments below.
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