News ID: 237998
Published: 0324 GMT January 27, 2019

Iran, Japan to battle it out for place in Asian Cup final

Iran, Japan to battle it out for place in Asian Cup final
AP

Asian giants Iran and Japan will square off on Mondayat the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 semifinals in Al Ain’s Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.

The major team news ahead of the game is the enforced absence of Mehdi Taremi, who will miss Monday's clash through suspension, having collected a second yellow card against China in the quarterfinals, the-afc.com reported.

While card trouble has cost Iran the Al Gharafa star, who has scored three goals in UAE 2019, the Iranians will welcome back Vahid Amiri, while Yoshinuri Muto returns from suspension for Japan.

Carlos Queiroz's Iran has become one of only three teams in history to go through its first five games at an Asian Cup without conceding a goal, but the amazing record of goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand goes back even further as he has conceded only four in 20 competitive appearances for the country.

Japan has claimed a piece of statistical history of its own in the UAE. Hajime Moriyasu's side is the first ever to win five successive matches by a single-goal winning margin.

 

Asian powerhouses, divergent histories

 

The two sides are both Asian football powerhouses, having qualified for the past two FIFA World Cups – and in Japan's case, every edition since 1998 – but the East Asians have had far more recent success on the continental stage.

While Iran is enjoying the excitement of being 90 minutes away from reaching the final for the first time since 1976, Japan has been the champion in four of the last seven editions, and three of the current squad were part of the victorious 2011 team.

Japan has only ever lost once at this stage of the competition, a 3-2 defeat to Saudi Arabia in 2007, which was also the last time the Samurai Blue lost any Asian Cup match outside of penalty shootouts.

Despite making the first appearance in the last four since 2004, Iran has not a lost a single Asian Cup match inside 90 minutes this century, with three of its previous eliminations coming from the penalty spot, and the other two – both defeats to Korea Republic – suffered in extra time.

 

Unfamiliar foes

 

Despite their permanent presence in the latter stages of both the AFC Asian Cup and FIFA World Cup qualifying, Japan and Iran have consistently managed to avoid each other in competition draws.

It has been over a decade since their last competitive fixture, a 2-1 Samurai Blue win in 2005, while their last Asian Cup clash came back in 2004 when the two sides settled for a goalless draw.

 

Trusted methods

 

While the pressure is mounting on Iran to claim the title for the first time in 43 years, the experienced Queiroz wants his players to continue to believe in the methods that have taken them to the finals of the last two FIFA World Cups under his watch.

“It’s one more day, one more game,” said Queiroz.

"This Japanese team, they have great movement on the pitch and with their actions and decisions they are very accurate. They are very accurate with their passing, but we cannot lose our identity.

“What is important is that we have a great team and great players, but we cannot risk our identity. We need to be ourselves and play with confidence and trust. We have our own weapons to play with but, of course, we have to pay attention to the Japanese team and adapt and try to control the strong points, and they have a lot."

“But the most important thing is to be ourselves. If we are not able to play one game without being ourselves that doesn’t make sense. After eight years and after so many sacrifices and so many games, now we have one game, the semifinal, to play against a great team.

“We need to be ourselves, we need to go inside the pitch and no matter what happens express our football and say: ‘We are Iran’ and play our football against Japan. That’s the most important.”

The two countries have shared some epic encounters, with the most thrilling coming in November 1997 when Japan beat the Iranians 3-2 late in the second period of extra time to qualify for the FIFA World Cup Finals for the first time.

Moriyasu’s Japan has yet to excite in a similar manner in the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019, but Queiroz is refusing to underestimate the Samurai Blue.

“I do not see anything defensive in this Japan team. It’s just a different opinion. I know tomorrow we play against the most prestigious and successful national team in Asia. They have brilliant players, play brilliant football.”

 

   
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