January 28 – Just 90 minutes and a win against Japan separate Iran from the final of the Asian Cup, a competition they have not won since 1976, but Carlos Queiroz has stressed that Iran must stay true to themselves to overcome a major test against the four-time record champions.
“The most important thing is to be ourselves,” said Queiroz. “It doesn’t make any sense to play one game without being ourselves. After eight years and after so many sacrifices and so many games, now we have one game to play against a great team. We need to be ourselves we need to go out on the pitch and, no matter what happens, express our football and say: “’We are Iran’ and play our football against Japan.”
The Iranian’s tournament form has been superlative, scoring 12 goals in five matches and maintaining a clean sheet on each occasion. In the quarter-finals they easily dispatched China 2-0 with some superb attacking play and they will seek to build on those performances to contain and defeat Japan. Iran boast an outstanding record in competitive matches against Asian opposition in the past four years with 18 wins, five draws and not a single loss.
Even so, Queiroz maintains that his team are underdogs going into the semi-finals. The Portuguese will have to reshuffle his forward line against the Japanese after the highly influential Mehdi Taremi was suspended for picking up a second yellow card against China. Taremi has scored three goals for Iran in the tournament and nurtured a good understanding with striker Sardar Azmoun.
The Japanese have not played their best football en route to the last four, but they showed signs of improvement in a hard-fought win over Vietnam in the quarter-finals. It was their third shaky 1-0 win of the tournament with 69% of possession, up from 30% and a very defensive mindset against Saudi Arabia in the round of 16.
Queiroz, almost naturally, disregarded all the negative noise around the Japanese team and heaped praise on the 2011 champions, labelling them as the “the most prestigious and successful national team in Asia.”
“They’re a country that I don’t need to extend too much of my praise,” said Queiroz. “I did not see anything defensive in this Japan team… they have great movement on the pitch and with their actions and decisions, they are very accurate. We have our own weapons to play with but of course we have to pay attention to the Japanese team and adapt and try to control the strong points, and they have a lot.”
Hajime Moriyasu has experience of beating Iran. At the 1992 Asian Cup he played in Japan’s 1-0 win over the Iranians to knock their opponents out of the group stages and the tournament. Japan would go on to win the tournament on home soil, but in the UAE Moriyasu’s team have failed to convince and their economical approach has raised serious questions over their ability to raise their game. A win against Iran would silence all the critics.
“Japan is not perfect, but we would like to mature step by step,” said Moriyasu. “We won the game, it doesn’t matter how we won. We will be patient to play against Iran.”
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1601332561labto1601332561ofdlr1601332561owedi1601332561sni@o1601332561fni1601332561