February 1 – Saeid Ezatolahi, has promised that Iran will play with “26 Taremis” against Japan after the star striker from Porto was sent off in his side’s penalty drama victory against a stubborn Syria in the round of 16 of the Asian Cup.
Speaking after Iran’s progress to the last eight of the competition, Ezatolahi, a key player in Iran’s midfield, said: “Mehdi was the saddest player after he was sent off. In my opinion, the first yellow card was not correct, the same situation happened to the right back of Syria and he was not given the yellow card. We have 26 Taremis and we will fight.”
The star player was red-carded after receiving a second caution on the stroke of full-time as Iran almost unravelled. They played extra time with ten men but kept their shape and discipline as Hector Cuper failed to make Syria’s numerical advantage count. Iran converted all their penalties while Alireza Beiranvand saved Fahd Youssef’s spot kick.
Ezatolahi added that the Syria test was “positive” and that the penalty shootout drama will make Iran “more united” ahead of their blockbuster quarter-final against Japan.
“We could have scored five goals against Syria until the 70th minute,” said Iran’s manager Amir Ghalenoei.
“I am not very happy with the performance of two or three players in this match. The performance in extra time was very good, we were compact and very disciplined. We will have a better performance against Japan.”
Ghalenoei was perhaps referring to Sardar Azmoun, who squandered a handful of opportunities on a night on which he looked particularly sluggish.
Ghalenoei replaced the AS Roma striker with Karim Ansarifard, whose experience helped Iran remain composed during extra time. Against Japan, Azmoun however will have to do without Taremi’s linkup play as Iran meet Japan on Saturday in the last eight.
Four years ago, the Iranians crashed out against the Samurai Blue in the semi-finals. They will seek to avoid a similar scenario in a bid to retain their chances to win a first Asian Cup since 1976.
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