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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 April 2019

Japan manager praises team's 'fighting spirit' after toppling Iran to reach Asian Cup final

Four-time champions will face winner of Qatar v UAE semi-final in Friday's championship match

Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu praised his players' "fighting spirit" after overwhelming Iran to clinch a place in the 2019 Asian Cup final.

Yuya Osako's header and penalty gave Japan a 2-0 lead before Genki Haraguchi's goal in stoppage time confirmed the Samurai Blue's place in a fifth continental showpiece final.

"Iran have had great results in the past and we knew they were going to be a very tough opponent, but the players had prepared well and they showed great fighting spirit," Moriyasu told reporters on Monday.

"They didn’t forget to have the mindset of challengers and that gave us the win today. The atmosphere was like an away game for us but there were many Japanese supporters and many people back home supporting us too.

"I’m happy the players could show the spirit to fight and to deliver a good result."

Japan had been more workmanlike than wonderful before Monday's masterclass in Al Ain, winning their previous five matches all by single-goal margins.

"I don’t think we changed compared to how we have played in the previous matches, but what our players did today was ... try to perform to their best individually and as a team and play for the result," Moriyasu added.

"Knowing that Iran have a strong attack and are strong physically, the players were aggressive and showed a lot of fighting spirit, and that was the difference. They tried to win the second ball and they were persistent."

Japan have a perfect record in Asian Cup finals with four victories, their last coming eight years ago in Qatar. As such, they face the winner of Tuesday's UAE v Qatar semi-final in Friday's title-decider at Zayed Sports City as favourites.

Moriyasu, who won the Asian Cup as a player on home soil in 1992, said Japan would maintain their pragmatic approach against whoever they face next.

"There wasn’t just one style of play in this match, but the players showed flexibility and that’s what got us the result," he said.

"In the final we will have our football ideals, but when we face the reality we will adjust to that."

While Moriyasu's journey continues for at least one more match, Carlos Queiroz's eight-year reign as Iran manager was brought to an abrupt end at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.

Quieroz gushed over his players despite their humiliating exit that leaves the three-time champions still waiting to end a 43-year wait to be crowned kings of the continent.

The former Real Madrid manager even channeled his inner Frank Sinatra as he said goodbye to Team Melli.

"Now the end is here," said the 65-year-old Portuguese. "I'm very happy and very proud - because I did it my way."

His tenure ended in bitter disappointment as Iran, previously the team to beat, suffered their sixth semi-final slip-up since they last lifted the trophy in 1976.

Queiroz pointed to the moment of madness which created the opening goal, when five Iran players surrounded the referee while Japan played on and scored.

Iran's heaviest Asian Cup defeat since 1988 extended a woeful record against their bogey team, whom they have not beaten in four meetings at the quadrennial tournament.

But Queiroz, who has taken Iran to two World Cups, paid emotional tribute to his players, cryptically saying they had given their country a "chance for freedom" during his time in charge.

"They did it for the people," he said. "They sent a message to the rest of the world that Iranian people deserve to be looked at differently by the rest of the world."

Updated: January 29, 2019 12:12 PM

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