• Soccer

Goalkeeper Qatar’s Hero, Iran Stun Japan to Set Up Asian Cup Semi

REUTERS/Ibraheem Al Omari
AFC Asian Cup – Quarter-Final – Iran v Japan – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan, Qatar – February 3, 2024 Japan’s Kou Itakura fouls Iran’s Hossein Kanani to concede a penalty

AL RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) — Alireza Jahanbakhsh’s last-minute penalty gave Iran a 2-1 win over Japan on Saturday and a place in the Asian Cup semifinals for just the second time since 2004.

Iran will next play tournament host Qatar, which beat Uzbekistan 3-2 in a penalty shootout following a 1-1 stalemate after extra time in their quarterfinal encounter.

Jahanbakhsh kept his cool in the sixth minute of second-half stoppage time to keep Iran on course for a first title since 1976 and fourth overall. Ko Itakura had been whistled for the foul and Jahanbakhsh gave goalkeeper Zion Suzuki no chance.

“Iran should be proud,” Iran coach Amir Ghalenoei said. “The players gave everything they had and I think the result can be a turning point for Iranian football.”

Iran came from behind after Hidemasa Morita put pre-tournament favorite Japan ahead in the first half of an entertaining quarterfinal match at Education City Stadium.

REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
AFC Asian Cup – Quarter-Final – Iran v Japan – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan, Qatar – February 3, 2024 Japan’s Hidemasa Morita celebrates scoring their first goal with Ritsu Doan
REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
AFC Asian Cup – Quarter-Final – Iran v Japan – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan, Qatar – February 3, 2024 Japan’s Hiroki Ito looks dejected after the match

Mohammad Mohebi leveled the score in the 55th minute.

Iran started aggressively with Jahanbakhsh firing just over from the left after 13 minutes. Shortly after Saeid Ezatolahi shot straight at goalkeeper Zion Suzuki.

Out of nothing however, Japan, looking for a record fifth Asian Cup title, took the lead in the 28th minute. Morita collected a pass, skipped past Hossein Kanani to enter the area and while his shot was soft, it seemed to confuse Alireza Beiranvand and the ball bounced off the goalkeeper’s leg and into the net.

Iran, without suspended star striker Mehdi Taremi, almost leveled six minutes before the break when Brentford midfielder Saman Ghoddos shot just wide.

Ten minutes after the break, Sardar Azmoun slipped the ball through to Mohebi whose first-time shot from near the penalty spot went in the net to spark the comeback.

“We have to improve in many aspects,” Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu said. “We conceded a goal in all five matches in this tournament. If you don’t keep a clean sheet you can’t win… We couldn’t handle the pressure they put on our defense.”

A first-half strike from Hassan Al Haydos led to defending champion Qatar taking a 27th-minute lead. His cross from the right deceived goalkeeper Utkir Yusupov, standing at the near post, and went in as an own-goal by the keeper.

AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi
Members of team Qatar throw goalkeeper Meshaal Barsham in air to celebrate their win in the Asian Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Qatar and Uzbekistan at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024.

Uzbekistan, looking for a second semifinal appearance, had chances and leveled after 59 minutes. Odiljon Hamrobekov picked up a loose ball just outside the area and the midfielder’s shot found the bottom corner.

Uzbekistan continued to have better chances but could not prevent a penalty shootout.

Both goalkeepers made saves but Pedro Miguel scored the decisive kick to send Qatar through to the last four.

The winner of Wednesday’s clash will meet either South Korea or Jordan in the final on Feb.10.