Iran had looked impressive in the knockout stages of the Asia Cup, despite limping past Syria on penalties – and their recent victory against Japan in the quarterfinals would’ve given them all the confidence in the world to reach their first final since 1976.
Qatar, however, had gone under the radar this tournament as the reigning champions – although they hadn’t yet faced a challenge such as Iran and so would be in for a tough outing in Wednesday’s semifinal.
IRN: Beiranvand, Rezaeian, Kanani, Khalilzadeh, Hajisafi, Ezatolahi, Ebrahimi, Jahanbakhsh, Ghoddos, Taremi, Azmoun
QAT: Barsham, Carvalho Deus Correia, Mendes, Ali Mohamed Mukhtar, Jadoua Al Bayati, Abdurisag Yusuf, Abdulsallam, Mansi Abdoulla, Ahmed, Abdulla, Afif
In the blink of an eye, Iran went 1-0 up through Sardar Azmoun inside four minutes. Azmoun was ready at the back post as Qatar failed to clear their lines, readjusting his body to hook it over his head and into the back of the net.Embed from Getty Images
Iran continued to pile on the early pressure when later Alireza Jahanbakhsh squared it to Mehdi Taremi, but his outstretched leg couldn’t connect with the ball thus the chance went wayward.
Sixteen minutes in and against the run of play, Akram Afif played it to Jassem Abdulsallam on the edge of the box for Qatar to peg themselves back level. In all likelihood, Abdulsallam’s shot would have been safe for Alireza Beiranvand – but a huge deflection sent the keeper scrambling as it looped over him.
The next chance would fall to Afif, who was bearing down on goal after a bad back pass. His first shot was directly at the keeper, and while he managed to get the rebound, he could only flick it over the bar.
Afif would be find gold with his next effort though, as he netted for the host nation in the 43rd minute. He cut in beautifully from the left-hand side, evading a couple of challenges before curling it into the top corner to leave Beiranvand with no chance.Embed from Getty Images
In stoppage time, there was yet more controversy to end the half as Kanani stabbed the ball goalwards from a corner. The shot was blocked off the line by Mendes – albeit seemingly with his arm. The Iranian players demanded a penalty, but VAR did not deem it worthy of one.
But soon after the restart, Iran were awarded a penalty when Ishamil blocked a shot with his arms. Jahanbakhsh sent the ball down the middle with ease to restore parity.
Ten minutes from time, Qatar would score a third through Almoez Abdullah. A deflected shot from the edge box found the path of the striker who managed to keep himself just onside, take it out of his feet, and place it over the line.
A comeback for Iran would seem impossible after Khalilzadeh received a straight red card for taking out Afif – although it would seem a bit harsh considering the angle was always against the Qatari man.Embed from Getty Images
Jahanbakhsh nearly levelled once more at the death for Iran as he struck the inside of the post, but it wouldn’t bounce back into the net – keeping the score at 3-2 to Qatar.
Qatar have now reached back-to-back finals in the Asia Cup, after having previously never been past the quarter-finals. The hosts can now look towards facing Jordan in the final, while Iran will be left feeling that had decisions gone their way, they could have edged one step closer to glory.