February 03, (THEWILL) – Iran pulled off a dramatic 2-1 extra-time victory over four-time Asian Cup champions Japan on Saturday to advance to the tournament’s semi-finals. The match saw plenty of tense moments, including a penalty kick by Iran’s captain Alireza Jahanbakhsh in the 94th minute to seal Iran’s first win over Japan in nearly 20 years.
Playing at Education City Stadium, the regional heavyweights were deadlocked at 1-1 late into stoppage time. However, a critical mistake by Japan’s Ko Itakura led to a penalty when he tripped an Iranian attacker in the box. Jahanbakhsh blasted the penalty into the top corner in front of an erupting Iranian crowd, sending his side into ecstasy and putting them one step closer to a record-tying 4th Asian Cup title.
Earlier, Japan had quieted the pro-Iran crowd after Hidemasa Morita dribbled through four defenders to open the scoring in the 28th minute. Yet, 10 minutes into the 2nd half, a beautiful passing move saw Iran equalise courtesy of substitute Mohammad Mohebi. From there Iran took control of the match, relentlessly attacking the Japanese goal.
The result avenged Iran’s semi-final loss to Japan in 2019. It also extended manager Amir Ghalenoei’s impressive unbeaten streak to 16 matches since taking over the side. After the final whistle, emotional Iranian players and staff flooded the pitch in joyful tears at the monumental accomplishment.
Meanwhile, Japan’s manager expressed regret that his side failed to advance further for their fans and earthquake victims back home. Iran now moves on to face either Qatar or Uzbekistan in the semi-finals as they seek to match Japan’s record of four Asian Cup crowns.
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Jude Obafemi is a versatile senior Correspondent at THEWILL Newspapers, excelling in sourcing, researching, and delivering sports news stories for both print and digital publications.