Asian Cup: UAE, Iraq win quarterfinals on penalties
United Arab Emirates knocked out defending champion Japan and Iraq outlasted a short-handed Iran in penalty shootouts to end thrilling Asian Cup quarterfinals on Friday.
Japan star Shinji Kagawa hit the left upright with his spot kick, allowing UAE defender Ismail Ahmed to blast in the winning penalty and earn UAE its first semifinal appearance since 1996.
After 1-1 in extra time, UAE won 5-4 on penalties at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium.
“I told the players, ‘You don’t always have to play nice football to win the game. Sometimes you have to play with your heart, with your spirit,’” UAE coach Mahdi Ali Hassan.
At Canberra, Iraq beat fierce rival Iran 7-6 in a penalty shootout after a remarkable 3-3 draw, when four goals were scored in extra time.
“We worked hard, me and my teammates, to give something to our country,” Iraq defender Dhurgham Ismail said. “Every respect to the Iran team who are not an easy team (to beat).”
Iraq booked a semifinal against South Korea, the only group winner to make the last four, on Monday, and UAE moved on to face Australia on Tuesday.
Iraq and South Korea are the only surviving former champions; Iraq in 2007, and South Korea last in 1960.
Japan didn’t concede a goal in three group matches, then was shockingly behind after only seven minutes on Friday.
Ali Mabkhout ran on to Amer Abdulrahman’s chipped pass and shot a powerful volley past Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima from a tight angle, for his fourth goal of the tournament.
Japan soon dominated possession and territory but countless raids unraveled on the decisive final pass.
The goal from an increasingly desperate Japan finally arrived when Gaku Shibasaki - Japan’s third and final substitute - took a cushioned pass from Keisuke Honda and curled his effort beyond UAE keeper Majed Naser to the relief of the Japanese fans among the crowd of 19,094.
Shibasaki came within inches of scoring his second goal late in extra time but his free kick was wide with Naser well beaten.
In the shootout, Honda shot over the crossbar, and Kagawa also missed for the tournament favorite, giving Ahmed the chance to secure victory, which he did by burying his shot out of Kawashima’s reach.
“The (UAE) played the match of their life,” Japan coach Javier Aguirre said.
“But we played better football and had a more attacking mentality than them. We did not enough care at the start of the game which caused us to concede a goal. Then we had to fight for goals.”
Iran, which played with 10 men after halftime, twice equalized in extra time to send the match to a lengthy penalty shootout, which ended when Iraq defender Salam Shakir converted after Iran’s Vahid Amiri hit the post.
Iraq captain Younis Mahmoud and Ismail scored in extra time, but Morteza Pouraliganji and Reza Ghoochannejhad, in the 119th minute, leveled the contest for the three-time champion.
Earlier, Azmoun Sardar opened the scoring in the first half for Iran, before the contentious sending off of teammate Mehrdad Pooladi just before halftime for his second yellow card. Ahmed Yasin equalized for Iraq in the 56th.
“We go home now and it hurts a lot, because the players worked hard and committed themselves,” Iran coach Carlos Quieroz said. “They deserve something more, and they deserve respect from the fans.”
Australian referee Ben Williams was the center of the match’s most contentious incident when he gave Pooladi a yellow card shortly before halftime for an innocuous incident with Hassan. Williams then walked away, seemingly unaware he was issuing Pooladi a second yellow.
The Iraqi players quickly surrounded the referee to alert him of the error, and Willams then brandished a red card to the left back, much to the displeasure of Quieroz, who gesticulated wildly for several minutes. At halftime, Quieroz needed to be restrained by Iranian team officials, and was led to the dressing rooms before he could confront the referee.
But a gallant 10-man Iran again showed resolve; Ghoochannejhad scored his second late goal in as many matches, showing good instinct to get to the bouncing ball and head in the equalizer during a goalmouth scramble, following Andranik Teymourian’s corner.
Both teams missed their first penalties in the shootout before the next 12 attempts were all successful. After Amiri missed, Shakir calmly placed his shot past Haghighi to give Iraq just its second win in seven Asian Cup matches against its great rival.