A late penalty from Alireza Jahanbakhsh proved decisive as Iran staged a comeback to defeat Japan 2-1 and secure their spot in the 2023 AFC Asian Cup semifinals on Saturday.
In a rematch of the previous edition’s semifinal, which saw Japan ran out 3-0 winners, the tables turned as Iran rallied from behind at the Education City Stadium. Despite Japan taking the lead before the half-hour mark, second-half goals from Mohammad Mohebi and former Brighton & Hove Albion striker Jahanbakhsh transformed the game in favor of the Iranians.
Leading the Team Melli in the absence of usual captain Ehsan Hajsafi, Jahanbakhsh came close to opening the scoring in the 13th minute with a curling shot, but it sailed just over the crossbar. The first real test for goalkeeper Zion Suzuki came when Hidemasa Morita lost possession, but Suzuki comfortably dealt with Saeid Ezatolahi’s attempt.
Morita redeemed himself by scoring a solo goal, evading three Iranian defenders to find the net despite goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand’s efforts. Iran’s best chance to equalize before halftime came from Saman Ghoddos, but his half-volley missed narrowly.
Nine minutes into the second half, Iran leveled the score through Mohebi after a long pass from Suzuki was intercepted. Iran thought they had taken the lead with a goal from Sardar Azmoun, but it was ruled offside.
Suzuki made crucial saves, denying Ezatolahi’s powerful volley and keeping Japan in the game. In the dying moments, Iran was awarded a penalty after Ko Itakura fouled Hussein Kanaani in the box. Jahanbakhsh confidently converted from the spot, securing the victory for head coach Amir Ghalenoei’s side.
Iran will take on Qatar in Wednesday’s semifinal, with the tournament hosts knocking out Uzbekistan on penalties in their quarterfinal match.