Asian Cup 2019: Iran's giants topple Chinese wall

Asian Cup 2019: Iran's giants topple Chinese wall
Team Melli smashed through China's defences to claim their place in the Asian Cup 2019 semi-finals with a decisive 3-0 win.
3 min read
25 Jan, 2019
Iran provided a footballing lesson in the quarter-final, but exposed their vulnerabilities [AFP]

The Asian Cup quarterfinals kicked-off on Thursday, and the first Middle Eastern representative to take to the field, Iran, took on China at the Mohamed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi.

Carlos Queiroz lined up Team Melli's best players for the mission - and the impact was noticed almost immediately.

China started the match with great motivation and almost found goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand unprepared, but the Persepolis number one found his spot and managed to grab the ball in time.

After ten minutes, Iran really started to play. Sardar Azmoun was almost unstoppable, as he pressed the Chinese defenders over and over, bringing Iran their first goal.

Azmoun stole the ball from Ki She, ran towards the keeper and left Mehdi Taremi with a sitter in front of an open goal. Iran one, China zero - after 18 minutes of play.

China needed an early substitution after Wu Xi was injured in the 25th minute, and the change made their game messy. Iran pushed them into their own half and China's coach, Marcelo Lippi, made another change to throw striker Xiao Zhi in for midfielder Feng Xiaoting.

It didn't help. Three minutes later it was already two-nil to Team Melli, as Azmoun chased another lost long ball, and this time went all the way and scored the second - Azmoun's fourth of the tournament. Only Qatar's Almoez Ali has netted more (with seven).

It seemed almost all over by the half-time whistle.

Both teams took a slower pace in the second half, but the 67th minute saw drama as Taremi was booked with a yellow card. He will miss Iran's next match. Taremi was shocked, but the call by the Qatari referee was correct.

In added time, Taremi made sure that Iran would finish the game in style. He pressured the defence, found Karim Ansarifad - on the pitch for only five minutes having replaced Azmoun - and the Nottingham Forrest man made it a clear 3-0 sweep for Iran.

Iran will now face one of the continent’s top teams - Japan, who beat Vietnam in the day's earlier game.

With this victory, Iran has progressed from the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup for the first time since 2004, ending their 2007-2011-2015 run of failing to get this far.

In addition, Team Melli has now equalled South Korea's 2015 record of keeping clean sheets in their first five matches of an Asian Cup competition.

Despite Iran having a 12:0 goal difference in the tournament so far, there are still a few talking points that Queiroz and his team need to think about before they meet the Blue Samurais.

In almost all of their games, Iran has had a shaky first ten minutes. It happened against Oman, conceding a penalty, Iraq and even against Yemen. After these ten minutes, they usually pull themselves together, the defensive coordination improves and then they are pushing it forward with their fantastic attacking.

It's a formula that has worked well against mediocre teams, but against an equally matched rival, there is a vulnerability here.

Taremi's absence could be crucial against Japan. Taremi is unpredictable - there are days which he can be one of Asia's finest, but he still has these moments when he suffers from a lack of concentration and inconsistency. There's no doubt that he is an important member of Queiroz's team, both offensively and defence-wise. The yellow card he received against China could be a turning point for Iran's fortunes in this competition.

Luckily for Iran, on the bench, they have Saman Ghoddos and Karim Ansarifad, both in shape and ready to be unleashed, in order to fulfil the biggest dream of Iranian football fans: bringing home the Asian Cup for the first time in 43 years.


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.