BANGKOK, Sept 11 (Reuters) - Despite two miserable defeats in their opening matches of the final round of World Cup qualifiers, Uzbekistan coach Rauf Inileev is confident his team can reach South Africa 2010.
The Uzbeks, the region's best performers in the last two rounds, were hammered 3-0 by Qatar at the weekend and failed to get past Australia on Wednesday after the Socceroos put up the shutters and clung on to their early 1-0 lead.
"It was crucial match for us. We had to win it but we were unlucky," said Inileev, whose team had won their first seven qualifiers, scoring 26 goals in the process.
"We missed chances again and we let the opponents score. But we still have a chance to fight for one of World Cup berths."
Uzbekistan are eager to reach their first World Cup after an acrimonious exit from the 2006 qualifiers, where they lost a controversial replay of a playoff they had originally won.
Qatar maintained their surprise Group One lead with a 1-1 draw at home to Bahrain, while underdogs North Korea kept their place atop Group Two after a 1-1 draw with rivals South Korea in Shanghai.
"We knew the problem would be to break down their defence .... we still failed," said North Korea coach Hong Yong-jo.
"We have the ability to be a strong side and the players are more than capable."
United Arab Emirates coach Bruno Metsu criticised his players for giving up against Saudi Arabia, who bagged two goals in five minutes for a 2-1 win and a share of top spot with North Korea.
"After the Saudis scored the equaliser they stopped playing," said Metsu, who admitted his team, bottom after two defeats, had a huge task to reach South Africa.
"It was a complete turnaround. We threw everything away .... I can change the players but I can't change their mindset."
Regional heavyweights South Korea, Japan, Iran and newcomers Australia have a game in hand over the other teams in their respective groups and each have the chance to go top when the Asian qualifiers resume on October 15.