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Iran into Asian Cup semi-finals with comeback win over Japan

Iranian national football team players celebrate after Mohammad Mohebbi (L) scores against Japan in a match of the quarterfinals of the AFC Asian Cup in Education City Stadium in Doha, Qatar on February 3, 2024.

Iran’s national football team progressed into the AFC Asian Cup’s semi-finals on Saturday after winning a difficult game against tournament contenders Japan.

The Team Melli, as the team is known by its nickname, came from behind to beat Japan 2-1 in the second half of a match watched by more than 30,000 people in the Education City Stadium in Doha, Qatar, where the continental tournament is being held.

Mohhamd Mohebi struck on the 55th minute to respond to Japan’s 28th minute goal by Hidemasa Morita.

Team Melli’s captain Alireza Jahanbakhsh then scored from the penalty spot a minute from the game’s final whistle to send Iran to the semi-finals of the prestigious tournament.

Amir Qalenoei’s men will face winners of another quarterfinal match between Uzbekistan and Qatar in the semi-finals on Wednesday.

South Korea will meet Jordan in the other semi-final.

Iran, the top team of the Asian Football Confederation ranking for most of the past decade, hopes to win the Asian Cup nearly half a century after its third championship in the tournament in 1976.  

The Team Melli had lost to four-times champions Japan 3-0 in the semi-finals of the previous edition of the tournament.

Top scorer Mehdi Taremi and first captain Ehsan Hajsafi are expected to feature in Iran’s line-ups in the rest of the tournament after absence in the match against Japan.

“The Iranian people should be proud of these players because they played with their hearts,” said Qalenoei, whose squad has not lost since March when he took over as Iran’s coach.

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