Football – Asian Cup: Iraq stun Iran to reach semis; UAE shock Japan
- Updated: January 23, 2015
January 23, 2015: Iraq knocked out neighbours Iran on penalties following a thrilling AFC Asian Cup quarter-final in Canberra on Friday before UAE joined them in the semis by stunning 2011 champions Japan in Sydney on penalties as Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa both missed from the spot.
Iraq coach Radhi Shenaishil hailed his team’s “leader” Younus Mahmood after the captain played a key role at Canberra Stadium, where the experienced striker scored early in extra-time to put his side 2-1 up after teammate Ahmed Yasin had cancelled out Sardar Azmoun’s opener in regulation time.
Three more goals were scored in the additional 30 minutes as Morteza Pouraliganji, Dhurgham Ismail and Reza Ghoochannejhad netted for a 3-3 draw, forcing penalties.
Mahmood was then thrust back into the spotlight when he stepped up to take the fifth spot-kick for Iraq and showed ice-cold composure – and impudence – to nail a ‘panenka’ to see his nation into the sudden-death stage of the shootout, which his side won 7-6 as Salam Shakir scored the winner after Iran’s Vahid Amiri hit the post.
“Younus essentially played four halves today and he played amazing,” said Shenaishil, the former Iraq international. “We have a young squad and we need a leader. He’s the type of player that opponents hate to play against and teammates love to play with.
“There was some doubt in the media about whether he should play, but I don’t listen to them. As a coach I see what the player produces during training time and on the field. He’s a star and important for Iraq.”
Along with Mahmood’s presence on the field, the Iraq coach felt that Iran’s lack of composure was a key advantage for his side. According to Shenaishil, Mehrdad Pooladi’s sending off after the 42nd minute of the tie swung the momentum in Iraq’s favour despite them being a goal down.
“I think the red card maybe meant their players lost some concentration. They were leading 1-0 and they should have been more relaxed,” he said. “I have all respect for the Iran team, but they had too much pressure on them as players in the match.”
Iraq’s thrilling triumph earns them a semi-final meeting with Korea Republic at Sydney’s Stadium Australia on Monday and Shenaishil now turns his attention to what will be another tough test for the 2007 winners.
“Our main goal now is recovery. We played four halves in this game and the main thing now is recovery ahead of the semi-final,” said Shenaishil, who is coaching Iraq on loan from Qatar Sports Club.
“I think teams like Korea Republic and Australia are teams that are here to win the Asian Cup, but the four teams in the semi-finals all have the same chance to get to the final. There is a lot of history with Korea and there are a lot of positive results for Iraq against Korea. I’ve got two Korean players that play with me in Qatar and I know it’s not an easy match but hopefully we can do the job on Monday.”
UAE head coach Mahdi Ali was left delighted with his team’s grit and determination after the 2013 Gulf Cup winners knocked out Japan at Stadium Australia on Friday evening.
Ismail Ahmed scored the winning penalty to secure a 5-4 shootout win for the Emirates after the game ended in a 1-1 draw following 120 minutes, setting up a semi-final showdown with tournament hosts Australia in Newcastle on Tuesday.
Victory ensured the UAE would play in the semi-finals for the first time since hosting the tournament in 1996 – when they lost on penalties to Saudi Arabia in the final in Abu Dhabi – and Ali was happy with the result no matter how it was achieved.
“I said yesterday that it would be a tough game,” said Ali. “We played a fantastic game against Iran, but we lost at the end of the match. Today, I told the players that we don’t always have to play very nice football to win, sometimes you have to play with your heart and your spirit and we worked very hard to win this game.”
UAE took the lead in the seventh minute when Ali Mabkhout scored his fourth goal of the tournament and in the second half the coach adopted a more defensive outlook as he attempted to seal the win. The tactic worked until nine minutes from time, when Gaku Shibasaki scored from just outside the area to pull Japan level before the match went to penalties after the match finished 1-1 after extra-time.
“The players were feeling tired and we were leading the game, so we made some changes because Japan were playing on the sides and controlling the midfield,” said the coach. “Football sometimes is not fair. It was not fair for us in the Iran game, but today we won and we deserve to go to the semi-final.”
Ali believes advancing at the expense of the reigning champions will give his side a confidence boost going into their meeting with the hosts. “Winning against Japan, the winner of the last Asian Cup, is a great thing and it will give the players more confidence and more motivation for the next game,” he said.
“We fought for 120 minutes in this game. Playing against Australia in Australia will be a very tough game, but we have just finished and we have only two days (to recover). They have three days and we have to travel tomorrow, so we will try to recover for the next match. We don’t have much time, so we have to get together again to do a good job in the next match.”
Source: WSG / AFC Asian Cup (www.afcasiancup.com); Editing by SportAsia