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Number Seven Thousand Five Hundred - 03 February 2024
Iran Daily - Number Seven Thousand Five Hundred - 03 February 2024 - Page 6

AFC Asian Cup:

Iran looking to benefit from underdog tag against Blue Samurai

A place at the AFC Asian Cup semifinals will be at stake when two of the continental heavyweights in Iran and Japan square off in Al Rayyan’s Education City Stadium today.
Iran’s last-16 test was in stark contrast to what the Japanese went through, as the Blue Samurai enjoyed a comfortable 3-1 victory over Bahrain, while Team Melli made a hard work of the game against Syria later on Wednesday.
What was supposed to be an easy fixture turned out to become a nail-biting one for Amir Qalenoei’s men, who created the best of the chances during the 1-1 stalemate but eventually had goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand to thank for making the all decisive save in the shootout win.
Qalenoei’s side – the oldest squad in the competition – has had less than 72 hours of recovery for today’s clash and as if the Iranian fans needed more reason to be anxious about the game, their team will be without the talisman Mahdi Taremi – Iran’s top scorer in Qatar – after he received his marching orders for a second bookable offense in the closing stages of normal time against Syria – a déjà vu for the prolific striker, who also missed the last-four 3-0 defeat against Japan in the 2019 edition.
The history of the head-to-head between the two sides also make Hajime Moriyasu’s men the favorites to progress to the semifinals as Japan was unbeaten in the previous four Asian Cup meetings between the two sides, winning twice, while Iran’s last triumph over today’s opponent in all competitions dates back to 2005, when Vahid Hashemian bagged a brace for a 2-1 win on home soil in the World Cup qualifiers.
For all the facts and figures being in Japan’s favor, Qalenoei will still hope to see his team build on the typical Iranian sense of honor and integrity in pursuit of a first trophy in the continent’s flagship international event in nearly five decades.
The Iranian coach, who he did not hesitate to show his frustration with “some of the senior players on the pitch” after Wednesday’s hard-fought victory, will also be desperate to see the likes of Sardar Azmoun, Alireza Jahanbakhsh, and Saman Qoddous rise up to the occasion and make up for Taremi’s absence.
While Iran has always proved to beat the odds when coming up against a rather stronger opponent, producing some memorable and heroic performances throughout the years, Japanese boss Moriyasu has had his own woes over the course of the four outings in the tournament.
Having had their 11-game winning streak come to an end with a shock 2-1 loss to Iraq in the group phase, the Japanese has looked vulnerable at times, even against minnow opponents in Vietnam and Indonesia, while their keeper Zion Suzuki has been far from reliable between the posts, making a series of blunders, including the one that led to Bahrain’s goal in the previous round.

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