AL RAYYAN (QATAR): A lapse in concentration saw four-time winners Japan learn an expensive lesson at the Education City Stadium when a spirited and focused Iran came from behind to snatch a late victory and march into the semifinals of the 2023 Asian Cup competition, here today.
An indecision by the defenders and goalkeeper after a harmless looking cross into the box well past the 90 minutes saw a defender bring down an Iran striker which earned a penalty and team captain Alireza Jahanbakhsh hit a firm shot high into the roof of the net for a 2-1 win in the quarter-final encounter and lead his team into the semifinals.
The result enabled Team Iran, under the guidance of Ardeshir Ghalehnoy, to continue their dream of clinching their fourth title while shattering the hopes of the Blue Samurai who had performed exceptionally well in this tournament with the mission of securing their fifth title.
The victory also saw Iran avenging their defeat to Japan after being humiliated 0-3 in the semi-finals of the 2019 edition hosted by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
In the clash today, Iran played without the team’s top scorer Mehdi Taremi (three goals) who was suspended following a red card in the round of 16 action against Syria.
The situation did not slow down Iran’s pace when it managed to break through the defense of Hajime Moriyasu’s squad to create several dangerous attempts throughout the game with Sardar Azmoun and Mohammad Mohebbi combining well to lead the attack.
However, Japan took the lead in the 28th minute after Hidemasa Morita made a solo run and tricked three opposing defenders before unleashing a close-range shot that bounced off goalkeeper Alireza Safar Beiranvand’s leg and into the Iranian goal.
Saman Ghoddos who received Shoja Khalilzadeh’s pass squandered the best chance to equalize for Iran after his shot from the left went wide of the goal in the 39th minute.
With the score in Japan’s favour during the first half, Iran doubled the tempo of the game as the match entered the second half and the immense pressure paid off when Mohebbi took advantage of Azmoun’s beautiful pass to unleash a powerful shot into goal in the 55th minute.
Azmoun then put Iran in the lead but his goal in the 63rd minute was ruled out for offside before Mohebbi was also disappointed when his header four minutes later narrowly missed the left of the goal.
Azmoun who is AS Roma’s striker once again failed to find the target when his header from Milad Mohammadi’s pass went slightly to the left of the goal in the 72nd minute.
Iran’s flurry of attacks finally paid off at the end of the match when a penalty was awarded after Kou Itakura, who failed to clear the ball in the danger area, brought down Hossein Kanani who was running from behind.
The penalty was completed confidently and calmly by Jahanbakhsh in the 90th+6th minute thus confirming Iran’s success in the match.
In the semi-final scheduled to take place at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, next Wednesday, Iran, who emerged as champions in 1968, 1972 and 1976, will meet the winner between host Qatar and Uzbekistan, who will face each other in another quarter-final match later tonight. – Bernama