Asian Cup 2019: Iran bow out after Japan thrashing

Asian Cup 2019: Iran bow out after Japan thrashing
The Blue Samurais will face the winner of the Arab Derby in Abu Dhabi in the 2019 Asian Cup final.
4 min read
28 Jan, 2019
Women are rarely allowed to watch the national team in action in Iran [Getty]

Iran, Iran - the team everyone tipped as the favourite to win the Asian Cup 2019, the hope of the Middle East to bring continental glory to the region's football - has left empty-handed once again.

Just like Bosnia in the 2014 World Cup, Iraq in the 2015 Asian Cup, and Portugal and Spain in 2018 World Cup - Iran arrived at a match they must win and managed to throw the chance out the window.

Carlos Queiroz, in his last match as Iran's coach, found his team still can't prevail in the most crucial of moments, as Iran lost 3-0 to Japan in the first 2019 Asian Cup semi-final.

The first half was divided quite equally between the teams, as Iran struggled to develop their regular pattern of play, while the Japanese were dangerous with a variety of counter-attacks.

Sardar Azmoun had a great chance inside the Japanese box, but goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda was quick to react.

Ashkan Dejagah, Vahid Amiri and Alireza Jahanbakhsh all had a bad day, and Iran's main weapon became the long ball towards Azmoun. It just didn't work as well as it did against China in the quart-final.

The only player who really stepped up his game in the first half was Ehsan Hajsafi, but overall Iran looked vulnerable and without pace. The first half proved how much Taremi - out of the match due to picking up a rash yellow card in the final moments of the quart-final - is crucial to Queiroz's lineup.

In their character, Iran was almost a different team from that which had showed such power throughout the tournament.

The second half kicked-off in much the same way, but after five minutes, Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in Al-Ain was dazzled by an unusual mistake. Takumi Minamino, the Japanese forward from RB Salzburg, ran for the ball, clattering Mohamed Kanani and fell just on the edge of the box.

The entire Iranian defence surrounded the referee to protest that there was no foul, but Minamino got up, grabbed the ball and lobbed perfectly from the left to striker Yuya Osako, who headed in Japan's opening goal.

Iran was left in shock.

Iran tried to develop their game and create chances, but every time it looked promising - the ball was sent wide. Dejagah tried, Hajsafi tried, but none could provide a decent shot on target.

After just a few minutes, Japan won a penalty. The ball had hit Morteza Pouraliganji's hand while he made a sliding tackle inside the box, and Australian referee Chris Beath went for the VAR. In a tough call, he ordered a penalty kick for the Blue Samurais. Osako, for it was him again, was ice-cool in front of goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand - and suddenly it was 2:0 to Japan and the match seemed to be over.

The heartbreak was etched on the faces of Iranian fans, watching one of Asia's greatest sides in recent history losing this way.

From that moment on, it was hard watching Queiroz's eight-year project slowly dissolving on the pitch. The Portuguese manager who developed football in Iran in an uncompromising way, could provide no answers to his team's emergency in his final match.

Karim Ansarifad was sent on, as was Saman Ghoddos and Mehdi Torabi, but nothing could change either the spirit or ideas of the players. While the Japanese had four players with 30 passes or more, Iran had only two - a great example of the lack of composure and coordination of the Iranian side.

In stoppage time, it was Genki Haraguchi who found himself all alone, ran half the length of the pitch and scored the third in a jarring end to Iran's Asian Cup campaign.

Team Melli's players started to argue and fight with their opponents, but it was meaningless in the given situation. The referee blew and it was all over.

Iran has now failed to progress from each of their last six semi-finals at the Asian Cup, since beating China 2-1 in 1976. In addition, in four Asian Cup matches against Japan, Iran has failed to win, having drawn two and lost two, while conceding four goals and scoring none.

This was their joint-largest Asian Cup defeat (they were also beaten 3-0 by South Korea during the 1988 group stages) and it was their biggest loss in a knock-out game at the tournament.

If that were not enough, Iran's concession of three goals in this game was as many as they had conceded in their previous nine matches in the Asian Cup (excluding penalty shootouts).

Iran seemingly had it all laid out for them on a plate, but they just couldn't step up in their most important match. They had a tremendous 2019 Asian Cup, but if you lose focus for 40 minutes in such a game, you simply can't win.


Uri Levy runs the popular football blog BabaGol, which covers football and politics focusing on the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter, and read his blog here.