Japan reach Asian Cup final as Yuya Osako double sinks Iran in Al Ain
The four-time winners triumph 3-0 at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium to book spot in Friday's tournament decider
Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu lauded his players’ “spirit” after reaching the Asian Cup final with a comprehensive 3-0 win over Iran at the Hazza bin Zayed stadium in Al Ain on Monday.
Japan had struggled to hit top form in reaching the semi-final, having fought back in their opening group match against Turkmenistan, before securing hard-fought, one-goal margin wins against Oman and Uzbekistan.
The four-time champions then claimed successive 1-0 wins in the knockout stages against Saudi Arabia and Vietnam, needing VAR to settle their quarter-final against the side from South East Asia.
However, against Iran – the highest-ranked team in the competition who were yet to concede – Japan displayed far more attacking ambition, with Yuya Osako finding the net twice.
The Werder Bremen forward broke the deadlock in the 56th minute with a header, before doubling Japan’s lead from the penalty spot 11 minutes later. Genki Haraguchi rounded off his side’s win with a goal in injury-time.
Despite the vastly improved attacking performance, Moriyasu insisted his team had not deviated from their pre-match tactics.
“I have the same answer as always about our game plan, that’s was to play exactly how we have been playing throughout the tournament,” he said.
Osako’s opener arrived after Iran had appeared to stop playing playing after what appeared to be a foul from Iran defender Mohammad Kanani on Takumi Minamino. However, the referee did not stop play, allowing Minamino to pick himself up, dart after the ball, and send a cross in for the unmarked Osako to head home.
Osako’s second came after Morteza Pouraliganji was penalised for handball, and despite the referee referring to VAR, his original decision stood as the 28-year-old striker slotted home from the spot.
With the result all but confirmed, Haraguchi with a fine solo run before shooting beyond Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand.
“What our players did was knowing the opponent they played a bit more offensive game. They showed a lot of spirit. Tonight they knew to keep the ball was important,” Moriyasu said.
“We knew it’s going to be a tough game against Iran and the players did what had to be done according to the situations on the pitch.
“They tried to keep possession but we attacked and defended as we had done in the previous matches. Iran played a good pace and we had to match them and that’s exactly what happed on the pitch.”
Iran manager Carlos Queiroz stepped down from his position after the defeat, ending a tumultuous eight years in charge of the team, and the Portuguese was quick to praise his players following his resignation.
“There isn’t too much to say about this match,” he said. “It was a very competitive and balanced semi-final but in different styles.
“Congratulations to Japan and I need to thank my players for everything they gave on the pitch throughout this tournament. I’m so happy with the journey I have had with the Iran team.
“They deserved to be in the final. It’s time to show my gratitude to the Iranian fans.
“The Iranian players have earned the respect from all over the world. The clubs and people outside have shown the respect to them. They really see the results and the fight they show on the pitch.
“My gratitude from the bottom of my heart to the players. Like in the last eight years I take full responsibility of the defeat. I think I have laid the foundation for this team to perform well.”
Japan, chasing a fifth Asian Cup, will meet the winner of the second semi-final between the UAE and Qatar which will be played at the Mohamed bin Zayed stadium in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.
Updated: January 28, 2019 10:09 PM