Iraq-Iran play for Asian Cup semifinal spot; Japan vs UAE
Neighbors and fierce rivals Iran and Iraq will meet in the Asian Cup quarterfinals on Friday, while defending champion and title favorite Japan will face the United Arab Emirates.
Here are some things to watch:
IRAN VS. IRAQ (0630 GMT): The winner-takes-all match in the Australian capital Canberra will be fiercely contested between two teams that both believe they have the edge on their opponent.
Iran’s form has been faultless, with three wins from three in the group stage, keeping clean sheets in every game. With experienced and highly regarded coach Carlos Queiroz in charge, the Iranian’s belief in their title chances is growing.
Iran, which beat Iraq in a pre-tournament friendly, clinched top spot in its group with a stoppage-time winner by Reza Ghoochannejhad which delivered a 1-0 win against the UAE.
“The spirit is great in our team,” Ghoochannejhad. “The chemistry and spirit in this team is amazing and we hope to continue and get good results in the future.”
Iraq’s form has not been quite as convincing, beating Jordan and Palestine while losing a tightly-fought match against Japan. Iraq, though, still has vivid memories of 2007 when it won the Asian Cup against the odds, with its homeland in the midst of war.
“I see it as a tough game,” Iraq midfielder Yaser Kasim said. “They are a good side. We played them in a friendly already, so we got a test how to play against them, and how they play. It’s going to be a massive, massive game and a great rivalry, so hopefully we can put on a show for the people.”
JAPAN VS. UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (0930 GMT): Four-time champion Japan starts as a favorite against the UAE, and the Blue Samurai are living up to their billing as the team to beat for the title.
Coach Javier Aguirre, who is working under the cloud of an ongoing match-fixing investigation relating to his time in Spanish club football, was not letting his players get ahead of themselves going into the Melbourne match.
“From my experience in the Copa America, World Cup and the Gold Cup, I can say that our chances are the same as the other seven teams remaining,” Aguirre said. “From now we start from zero.”
Japan will have had only two days’ rest since its last group game — one day less than the UAE — and star attacker Keisuke Honda was not impressed with the timing.
“Two days is too short for recovery,” Honda said. “We have to deal with it but I don’t agree with this schedule. It is very difficult, a tough schedule.
“We shouldn’t think we will create many chances against them. They are strong physically, have speed and many talented players.”
The Emirates’ chances of pulling off a surprise win will rest largely on the shoulders of young playmaker Omar Abdulrahman, whose performances in this tournament have demonstrated why some of Europe’s big clubs are tracking his progress.
The UAE’s strength is a coherence born of having the same group of players coming up through the ranks from under-17s, but Abdulrahman is the standout.
Japan captain Makoto Hasebe, as the ball-winning midfielder, will have the chief responsibility of negating the Emirati star.
“He gets a lot of the ball from his teammates and we know he is the key player,” Hasebe said. “He is a playmaker more than a finisher and we have to take care of the way he distributes the ball.
“I have seen some of their games and they are dangerous going forward. They have a lot of players that have come through younger age groups together and are a complete team. But, that said, on our day I think we are a better team.”