Iran score from the penalty spot in added time to end Japan’s push for 5th title

February 3 – Another goal in added time in this tournament of late match winners, saw Iran overcome Japan in what was very much a game of two halves and grew into a pulsating quarter final.

After a first half of missed chances for both teams, the score at 1-1 and with the clock having clicked past 90 minutes towards extra time, Iran’s Hossein Kanani was brought down in the box. Alireza Jahanbakhsh stepped up to hammer the spot kick home, and everything Iranian begun a celebration that will last long into the day.

This was always going to be a blockbuster of a semi-final with four times Asian Champions and losers in the 2019 final Japan calling on a squad packed full of their European stars.

Iran went into the finals unbeaten in 2023, and with a nation behind them desperate to win their first continental title since 1976.

Japan’s Hajime Moriyasu and made three changes to his starting line up winning team, while Iran’s Amir Ghalenoei made four.

Japan had a smooth passage into the quarter finals with a 3-1 win over Bahrain. Iran had to go penalties to overcome Syria but lost their talismanic goalscorer Mehdi Taremi in the process.

It was set up for clash of two of the AFC’s giants and it didn’t disappoint.

Japan opened with their possession-based game pushing the more cautious Iranians back. Not afraid to press Iran high and force errors, Iran were similarly unafraid to give fouls away to break down Japan’s fast paced close game.

With real shot from Iran’s Jahanbakhsh on the left but hit just over the top of Zion Suzuki’s bar. Three minutes later Saeid Ezatolahi followed up shot from outside box that was easily gathered by Suzuki.

Japan responded with slick passing moves, often starting with their centre backs that pushed them in numbers towards Iran’s goal, but ultimately they couldn’t create the chances in front of goal the attractive build-up play deserved.

On 20 minutes the Education Stadium big screen flashed up a statistic showing Japan with 75% of possession.

Iran’s attacks were primarily on the counter.

On 26 minutes a Jahanbakhsh long throw – two metres short and not pacey enough to be a real threat – saw Japan break with the ball on the ground. Fast passing and with numbers swarming forward, Japan drove into the heart of the Iran’s opening defense with Hidemasa Morita coming in from the left to hit his shot off Alireza Berinvand’s sprawled left leg and in.

Japan’s control of the ball and press to regain possession had left Iran struggling to get a foothold, and reliant on long defensive clearances and speculative balls over top. At this point it looked like there was only going to be one winner of this contest.

On 38 minutes Iran’s Saman Ghoddos was on the end of one of those balls over the top but punched his shot wide. It was a reminder to Japan at half time that Iran still had enough to hurt them.

Iran opened the second half with much more attacking intent. Sardar Azmoun immediately came close muscling his defender off the ball to run at Sukuki who saved well with an outstretched leg. This was now a very different Iran from the first half.

Roles had reversed with Iran now pressing Japan’s defensive possession and playing with a higher intensity without the ball.

On 54 minutes Iran had their equaliser. Winning the ball on halfway, the ball came to Azmoun who threaded the ball to Mohammad Mohebi to score, 1-1.

Japan’s response was to commit more players to attack but it opened them up to counter attacks. It made for an entertaining spectacle.

Eight minutes after the goal Mohebi and Iran thought he had scored a second, but he was ruled offside. No VAR was needed.

At the other end Morita almost had his second but Berinvand was equal to him this time.

With the game opening up Moriyasu brought on his European-based strikers Kaoru Mitoma and Takumi Minamino.

The chances were now coming for both sides. Azmoun came close with a header from the centre of the box going over the top. Ayase Ueda headed wide at the other end.

On 83 minutes Saeid Ezatolahi hit the ball from the edge of the box into Suzuki’s arms. If the pressure had been on Iran first half, it was now Iran’s press that was forcing mistakes.

On 86 minutes Azmoun had claims for a penalty overturned after falling over Suzuki’s body. It was hopeful at best but it did showcase another less savoury example of Iran’s other pressure game.

Three minutes into added time Iran did have their penalty. Ko Itakura brought down Kanani in the six yard box. The referee immediately pointed to the spot. Jahanbakhsh stepped up and fired high to the right of Suzuki. How the Iranians celebrated.

There is much to like about this Japanese team, their football and the way they conduct themselves. But it was Iran, fuelled by passion verging at times on outrage, who delivered the end result. They continue to the semis. Japan will see this as a missed opportunity.

Contact the writer of this story at moc.l1709172131labto1709172131ofdlr1709172131owedi1709172131sni@n1709172131osloh1709172131cin.l1709172131uap1709172131


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