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AFC Asian Cup 2024: Japan and Iran Show Why They Are among the Favorites to Lift the Asian Cup after Big Wins

AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis
Japan’s Takumi Minamino, right, celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the Asian Cup Group D soccer match between Japan and Vietnam at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024.

AL-RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) — Big wins for Japan and Iran on Sunday backed up their pre-tournament billing as two of the favorites to lift the Asian Cup.

Record four-time champion Japan came from behind to beat Vietnam 4-2 in Group D, and Iran overcame the Palestinian soccer team 4-1 in Group C.

Japan is the standout favorite to triumph in Qatar after its dominance was broken over the last two editions of the tournament.

It has not lifted the trophy since 2011 — ending a run that saw it win four out of six titles. And it suffered an early shock when trailing 2-1 to a Vietnam team ranked 94th by FIFA, before powering back to avoid an upset.

Iran, which won the competition three times in a row from 1968 to 1976, never looked like slipping up against the Palestinian team after taking a 2-0 lead inside 12 minutes at Education City Stadium on its way to a resounding win.

JAPAN COMEBACK

Takumi Minamino scored two goals in Japan’s comeback win against Vietnam.

The former Liverpool forward opened the scoring after 11 minutes at Doha’s Al Thumama Stadium but Nguyen Dình Bac equalized in the 16th and Vietnam went ahead through Pham Tuan Hai’s goal in the 33rd.

Japan recovered when Minamino, who is now at Monaco, evened the game again in the 45th.

Keito Nakamura made it 3-2 in first-half stoppage time and substitute Ayase Ueda extended Japan’s lead in the 85th.

Indonesia plays Iraq in Group D on Monday.

AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis
Japan’s Ayase Ueda, second left, celebrates with teammates after scoring his side’s fourth goal during the Asian Cup Group D soccer match between Japan and Vietnam at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024.

IRAN IMPRESSES

It took Karim Ansarifard two minutes to put Iran ahead against its Palestinian opponents on the way to a 4-1 rout in Al-Rayyan.

Shoja Khalilzadeh added another in the 12th and Mehdi Ghayedi made it 3-0 in the 38th.

But the loudest cheers of the game came when Palestinian player Tamer Seyam pulled a goal back in first-half stoppage time.

Sardar Azmoun made it 4-1 10 minutes after the break and, despite creating a host of chances in the second half, Iran could not add to its lead.

Palestinian player Mohammed Saleh was shown a red card for a professional foul on Azmoun in stoppage time, but that was downgraded to yellow after a video review.

AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi
Iran’s Mehdi Ghayedi, left, scores his side’s third goal during the Asian Cup Group C soccer match between Iran and Palestine at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024.

LANDMARK GOAL

Hong Kong’s Philip Chan Siu Kwan scored the 1,000th goal in the history of the Asian Cup, but his team still fell to a 3-1 defeat against United Arab Emirates.

Chan briefly evened the score in the Group C game four minutes into the second half after Sultan Adil had given UAE the lead from the penalty spot in the 34th.

But it took just three minutes for UAE to regain the advantage through Zayed Sultan.

Substitute Yahya Al Ghassani struck in the fifth minute of time added on to complete the win against a Hong Kong team that is the lowest ranked in the tournament at 150th in the FIFA standings.

AP Photo/Hussein Sayed
Hong Kong players celebrates after their team scores a goal during the Asian Cup Group C soccer match between Hong Kong and United Arab Emirates at Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024.