New-look Japan gear up for Iran in Asian Cup semifinals
The Japanese will be looking to upset Iran.
Abu Dhabi - Blue Samurai hope to extend their 10-game unbeaten run under Moriyasu
Published: Sun 27 Jan 2019, 9:18 PM
Last updated: Sun 27 Jan 2019, 11:25 PM
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz warned of toothy predators after reaching the Asian Cup semifinals, but the shock exits of South Korea and Australia suddenly make 'Team Melli' favourites.
First though they have the little matter of overcoming four-time winners Japan on Monday - a tasty "amuse-bouche" before hosts the UAE take on Qatar 24 on Tuesday.
Under heavy pressure to win Asian football's most coveted prize for the first time since 1976, Iran have swept imperiously through the tournament as some of their rivals faltered.
"We know the big sharks will come for us," said Queiroz after Iran thrashed China 3-0 in the quarterfinals, pointing to the Koreans, Japan and Australia - two of whom ultimately lacked the bite to match the hype.
"What we did against China will not be enough."
After Son Heung-min's South Korea were stunned 1-0 by Qatar and UAE upset defending champions Australia by the same score, Iran's players will be daring to dream.
But a new-look Japan side will be no pushovers as they look to extend their 10-game unbeaten run under Hajime Moriyasu.
"We need to be at it from the start," said Japan captain Maya Yoshida after the Blue Samurai beat Vietnam 1-0 thanks to a VAR-assisted penalty - their fifth straight victory by a single-goal margin.
"If we can't get on the front foot early on, we're not going to win."
Iran have hit 12 goals in their five games - four of them scored by the "Iranian Messi" Sardar Azmoun - and conceded none.
But the Japanese, who were only denied a World Cup quarterfinal spot by an astonishing Belgian comeback from two goals down, have defied the odds at previous Asian Cups.