The national Iranian Under-23 football team has lost to Japan in the knock-out match of a continental tournament, once again failing to qualify for the Olympics where Iran has been absent for about five decades.
Three extra-time goals made it 3-0 for Japan against Iran in the quarterfinals of the AFC U-23 Championship in the Qatari capital of Doha on Friday.
Iran made it almost good through the entire normal time with Iranian players cutting through Japan’s defense line but failing to unlock the game. Arsalan Motahhari, Ali Abdollahzade and Milad Mohammadi had bright chances of scoring in the dying minutes of the first half and close to the hour mark, but rushed and inexperienced, as the Iranian media said, they failed to give their side a deserved lead.
All this failures proved crucial as the game moved into the extra times. Then, Toyokawa put Japan in front five minutes into the first additional period before Nakajima scored twice in the fourth and fifth minutes of the second period to give the Japanese a good cushion until the final whistle.
The top three teams of the 2016 AFC U-23 Championship, which started on January 12, and will run until January 30, will qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Japan now has a high chance of making it into the games by another win in the semi-finals.
Iran, a powerhouse of the Asian football, has not been in the Olympics since the 1976 games in Munich, Germany, and the absence has now extended to nearly half a century considering that the future games will be held in 2020.
The Iranian U-23 soccer players collected six points from three matches in the group stage of the sporting event in Qatar to stand second in Group A behind the hosts. Mohammed Khakpour’s team started the campaign with a 2-0 victory over Syria on January 12, before conceding a 2-1 defeat to the Qatari outfit. They edged past China on the third day to reach the last eight of the tournament.