By Press TV Website Staff
Even before the two Persian Gulf semi-finalists of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup take to the field on Wednesday afternoon, the much-anticipated clash has already stirred up a hornet’s nest.
Iran’s football body on Monday disagreed with the proposal pitched by the host nation to change the venue of Wednesday’s do-or-die match from Al Thumama Stadium to Al Bayt Stadium.
Iran also objected to the appointment of a Kuwaiti referee for its Asian Cup semifinal against the title holders. Ahmad Al-Ali is expected to officiate the match, which many described as “surprising.”
“We are wondering how it’s possible that they put an Arabic guy in charge of the game,” Team Melli defender Saeid Ezatolahi, who also plays for Danish club Vejle, was quoted as saying on Tuesday.
On the eve of the semi-final match, Iran's soft-spoken coach Amir Ghalenoei lashed out at organizers of the marquee football tournament, saying VAR has “not been very kind to us.”
Iran defeated Japan 2-1 in a nail-biting quarter-final on Saturday, after coming from one goal behind to score an equalizer followed by the decider by Alireza Jahanbakhsh in stoppage time.
Qatar, on the other side, prevailed over Uzbekistan on penalties after the match ended in a 1-1 draw.
If Team Melli continues its unbeaten run on Wednesday and reaches the summit clash on Saturday, it will be the first time since 1976 that the team cruises into the finals of the AFC Asian Cup.
Iran hosted the biggest continental football competition in 1976 and walked away with the coveted trophy. Between 1968 and 1976, Iran won three consecutive editions of the competition.
This will be Iran’s eighth Asian Cup semi-final. In 1988, the team reached the semis and faced defeat from Saudi Arabia on penalties. It also reached the semi-finals in 1980, 1996, 2004, and 2019.
Iran national football team defeats Japan 2-1, qualifies for semi-finals at AFC Asian Cup pic.twitter.com/ByFsPRFabr— Press TV (@PressTV) February 3, 2024
Iran’s line-up boasts impressive talent who feature in the top European leagues, including Mehdi Taremi who until recently played for Portuguese club Porto and has now been roped in by Inter Milan.
Taremi, the lead scorer for Iran in the 2023 Asian Cup, was forced to sit out from the quarterfinals against Japan after getting a red card in the previous game against Syria.
Sardar Azmoun is another formidable name in the Team Melli line-up who plays as a forward for Serie A club Roma, which is coached by former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho.
Azmoun has been unlucky to miss out on scoring for his side in three appearances so far in the AFC Asian Cup, but he has been crucial in helping other strikers hit the net.
Qatar has the home advantage but Iran starts as favorites. Interestingly, Team Melli remains undefeated in all its 10 previous games against Qatar, winning 6 of them on the trot.
Iran outscored the Arab side 11-1 in those six games, displaying complete dominance.
Ahead of Wednesday's game, Iran’s newly-appointed coach said many of his senior players will have “the last dance” as they may not be available for the next edition of the continental championship.
“We are standing at a very sensitive part of history -- we have a very good chance to make history for Iranian football and the Iranian people,” Ghalenoei was quoted as saying.
“We have to use the opportunity and give everything to beat Qatar and reach the final.”
Qatar coach Tintin Marquez admitted that it will be “a complex game" against Iran.
“We recognize how difficult this game will be. I didn’t know that Iran hadn’t won it for such a long time but we know we will be facing a tough team,” said the Spaniard who took over from Carlos Queiroz.
Team Melli's possible starting lineup:
Beiranvand, Taremi, Azemoun, Rezaeian, Kanaanizadegan, Khalilzadeh, Hajsafi, Ezatollahi, Ghoddos, Jahanbakhsh, Mohebi
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