Iran stun Japan 2-1 to reach Asian Cup semi-finals

 Alireza Jahanbakhsh scored a 96th-minute penalty to give Iran a dramatic 2-1 win over Japan on Saturday and set up an Asian Cup semi-final against holders Qatar or Uzbekistan.

It capped a stunning comeback from Iran, who were behind at the break but roared back to dump out the pre-tournament favourites and keep alive their dream of a first Asian title since 1976.

Hidemasa Morita gave Japan, who were looking to lift the trophy for a record-extending fifth time, the lead midway through the first half in front of 36,000 at Education City Stadium in Doha.

Mohammad Mohebi drew Iran — themselves champions three times — level 10 minutes after half time and they dominated the remainder of the game.

But just when it looked like extra time, Kou Itakura brought Hossein Kanaanizadegan down in the box and skipper Jahanbakhsh held his nerve to spark delirium on the pitch and in the stands.

Coach Amir Ghalenoei said his players were “fantastic” in the second half.

“They gave everything for the Iranian people,” he said.

“This can be a turning point for Iranian football.”

Ghalenoei, whose side squeezed through on penalties over Syria in the last 16, took a potshot at critics of him and his side back home.

“I am not saying criticism is not good, but some people in the last 11 months tried to ruin the national team,” he said.

– Under pressure –

Iran, missing the suspended Porto forward Mehdi Taremi, had the first sight of goal on 13 minutes when Feyenoord winger Jahanbakhsh fizzed the ball over goalkeeper Zion Suzuki’s crossbar.

Japan seemed flustered initially by their opponents’ physical approach, but they were able to give as good as they got and Itakura picked up a yellow card for cynically stopping an Iran attack.

On 28 minutes Hajime Moriyasu’s side went ahead when Morita bustled his way through a weak challenge and with Iran’s defence AWOL, the midfielder was all alone with only Alireza Beiranvand to beat.

He did not strike the ball convincingly but the goalkeeper tried to save with his legs instead of his hands and the ball hit an outstretched limb before looping into the net.

Japan, beaten by Qatar in the 2019 final, went to the break in the lead but there was little in it.

In the 55th minute Iran pulled level when Sardar Azmoun slipped in Mohebi and he beat an exposed Suzuki with a smart first-time finish.

It was all Iran now. Mohebi headed just wide at the far post and then an Azmoun header flashed narrowly past Suzuki’s post with the goalkeeper beaten, before the drama at the death.

“They put us under a lot of pressure and we could not resist their pressure,” said Moriyasu, whose side were beaten 2-1 by Iraq in the group phase and conceded eight goals during the tournament.

“Against strong opponents we cannot concede goals like we did today.

“We should have scored a second, and if we had, the game would have been different.”


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