After a one-day break, the 2019 AFC Asian Cup resumes action today in the UAE where eight teams will be looking to secure a last-four spot in the continental showpiece.
Still unbeaten and yet to concede a goal, Iran will face China at Abu Dhabi’s Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, hoping to make it to the semis for the first time since 2004.
It is ironic that the last time Iran reached the stage, it was eventually beaten by today’s opponent – then host of the event – in the shootouts.
Two first-half goals, courtesy of Alireza Jahanbakhsh and an Ashkan Dejagah’s spot-kick, gave Iran a well-deserved 2-0 victory over Oman in the previous round.
However, Iran head coach Carlos Queiroz will hope to see strikers Sardar Azmoun and Mehdi Taremi deliver a more clinical performance in front of the goal as the star duo missed some clear-cut chances during their side’s last-16 victory.
China appears in the last eight for the second consecutive edition of the tournament, having come from behind to secure a 2-1 win over Thailand in the first knockout round.
Banking on experience
Queiroz declared that his side is aiming to make the most of its undoubted experience when facing China.
Iranians’ last attempt at the Asian Cup glory ended at the same stage when they dramatically lost on penalties to Iraq four years ago in Australia, the-afc.com reported.
Although mindful of that result, Queiroz is determined for Iran to put what his players have learned between then and now to good use when they face the East Asians.
“No two games in football are ever the same, in football it is always a different story,” declared the Portuguese tactician.
“The game versus China is a new game, a new adventure, and one in which we can try to do our absolute best. However, what is key is to remember all the lessons we have learned – both when we have won and when we have lost – and put them to good use.
“This is just like a cup final as there are games which do not have a history, they do not have a past. You cannot lose a game because of history or statistics. This type of cup final match is very different to those we faced in the group stage and I believe the experience my players have will count for something in the game."
“We are not favorites as I feel there are never favorites in a game like this. We are proud to be here for a game which is the most important game of our lives because it is the next game, and that is always the most crucial for both players and coaches.”
Despite China having impressed at the tournament so far, Queiroz is eager that his charges embrace the challenge rather than be distracted by what will undoubtedly be a formidable test.
“It will be a difficult game against a very tough team,” he said.
“China are a solid and well-prepared team with a great coach. We know a difficult task is in front of us, but we are excited and fully prepared. We are confident that we will play well, as we have the ability, our ambitions and our dreams.
“I want my players to keep it simple as football really is a simple game. It is just 90 minutes of 11 versus 11 and the players need to enjoy the match, enjoy the experience. If we are able to play with freedom and joy, I believe we will do well.”
Meanwhile, China head coach Marcello Lippi said Iran is the top team in Asia and there is a reason why the Central Asians has occupied the spot.
"Obviously Iran are one of the top teams in Asia, they played well at the World Cup and here too, are physically very strong, organized and have very good quality," said Lippi at Wednesday's pre-match press conference.
"From what we know of Iran, we know that we must be tactically perfect against them. There is no room for mistakes for they will punish you every chance they get.
"They are technically and tactically very sound and very good in playing long balls. We must be focused against them," added Lippi.
The winner of the game will face either Japan or Vietnam – who square off in today’s early fixture – in the semifinals.
Asian Cup history will be made today when the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system makes its debut in the quarterfinal round.
The Vietnamese fairytale continued in the Round of 16, as Park Hang-seo's side came from a goal behind to overcome Jordan in a penalty shootout, claiming the nation's first ever Asian Cup knockout stage win.
Their next challenge comes in the form of the competition's most decorated team; four-time champion Japan, which claimed its fourth consecutive victory with a 1-0 triumph over Saudi Arabia.