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Doan penalty sends Japan through to semis

Iran steamroller China to reach last four of Asian Cup

Iran’s forward Sardar Azmoun (top), and China’s defender Liu Yiming fight for the ball during the AFC Asian Cup quarter-final soccer match between Iran and China at Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on Jan 24. (AP)

DUBAI, Jan 24 (RTRS): Ritsu Doan scored a second- half penalty awarded by the newly-introduced video assistant referee (VAR) to give Japan a 1-0 win over Vietnam in the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup on Thursday.

Doan drove the ball into the bottom left corner, beating Vietnam’s Russian-born goalkeeper Dang Van Lam who had guessed the right way after the spot kick was awarded in dramatic fashion shortly before the hour mark. Appeals for a foul on Japan’s Maya Yoshida in the box were initially dismissed by the referee, only for him to change his mind after a lengthy VAR review.

It was the second time VAR was used in the gripping clash, with an earlier Japan goal disallowed on review. Vietnam coach Park Hang-seo said the VAR process could be quicker, though he did not dispute the penalty. The technology, used at other tournaments, has been introduced to the Asian Cup for the first time and only from the last-eight stage.

“I hope the VAR problem is getting better,” Park said, suggesting it should be introduced earlier so that referees were more comfortable with the technology. Vietnam were quick on the counter attack but unable to get past a stubborn Japanese side who now face either China or Iran in the semi-finals. “It was good that our players were able to keep a clean sheet,” Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu told reporters.

“As a team we earn another experience that will (help) our development.” Vietnam’s Nguyen Cong Phuong missed an opportunity to break the deadlock in the 14th minute when he beat three defenders at Dubai’s Al Maktoum Stadium but sent the ball wide. Yoshida thought he put Japan ahead in the 24th minute when he headed in a cross, only for it to be disallowed for handball after a VAR review. “I think my players did their best in this competition even though we lost today against Japan,” Park said.

“I’m really satisfied.” Japan midfielder Genki Haraguchi saw his effort from outside the box saved in the 68th minute, before the four-times champions survived a late onslaught. Cong Phuong missed an opportunity to equalise in the 89th minute when he found himself unmarked just outside the box but he blasted the ball over.

Regional heavyweights Iran underlined their Asian Cup title credentials with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Marcello Lippi’s China to reach the semi-finals of the continental championship for the first time since 2004.

Goals from forwards Mehdi Taremi, Sardar Azmoun and Karim Ansarifard combined with a record-equalling fifth straight clean sheet was enough to set up a last four date with four-times champions Japan in Al Ain next Monday. Outmuscled by the physical Iranians and embarrassed by a series of defensive howlers, China sent World Cup-winning coach Lippi into almost certain retirement by exiting with barely a whimper at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium. The lively Iranian forward line were allowed far too much space from the start and winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh sent a cross-shot whistling past the post in the fourth minute.

The massed ranks of Iran fans did not have to wait long for the first goal, though, and it came in the 18th minute from the simplest of long balls up the middle. China defender Feng Xiaoting hesitated and Azmoun pounced, taking his time to turn before sliding the ball across the area to the unmarked Mehdi, who had all the time in the world to stroke it into the net. Mehdi looked unlucky not to get a penalty three minutes later but the match official resisted Iranian pleas that he check with the video assistant referee (VAR), newly installed for the quarter-finals.

Feng was hauled off in the 28th minute but two minutes later another Chinese defender was deceived by a long ball, Azmoun wrestling his way past Liu Yiming before rounding goalkeeper Yan Junling and slotting the ball into the net from an angle. China came out with a little more purpose after the break and substitute Xiao Zhi ballooned a header over the bar but they were still caught in possession too often and Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand snuffed out anything too dangerous.

Fullback Ehsan Hajsafidrilled a low shot towards the China goal on the hour mark that Yan did well to push away and it looked like, as in their last 16 match against Oman at the same stadium, Iran would be unable to score after the break. In stoppage time, however, Mehdi robbed China’s Shi Ke on the halfway line and his pass sent Ansarifard clear to put the gloss on another emphatic step towards ending Iran’s 43-year wait for a fourth continental title.

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