In a replay of the 2019 Asian Cup semi-finals, Iran and Japan will compete in the quarter-finals of the competition this Saturday at Education City Stadium.
Iran moved forward after a tense match against Syria ended 1-1, winning on penalties, while Japan beat Bahrain 3-1 in the round of 16.
Despite being much higher ranked than Syria, Iran struggled to get past a Syrian team that focused on defense.
This strategy almost worked against Iran, who managed 12 shots on goal but ultimately had to win through penalties to make it to the quarter-finals.
This Saturday marks their eighth consecutive appearance at this stage, with only one advancement beyond this point, when they beat China 3-0 in 2019.
Before facing Hong Kong, Amir Ghalenoei’s team was scoring freely, hitting the net multiple times in eight straight games before this tournament. However, they’ve scored one or fewer goals in two of their last three games.
Iran hasn’t lost to an Asian team since a defeat to South Korea in March 2022, winning 12 of their last 13 matches in the region.
It’s been over 18 years since Iran last defeated Japan, with a 2-1 victory in a World Cup qualifier in March 2005.
Japan got a wake-up call with a surprising loss to Iraq in their second game but has since won convincingly in their last two matches.
That defeat is Japan’s only loss in regular time since a loss to Colombia last year.
Japan has scored three goals in each of their last two games, showing strong offensive performance in 13 of their last 14 matches.
Reaching the quarter-finals is routine for Japan, who have made it this far in eight consecutive Asian Cups, only losing twice at this stage.
They’ve kept clean sheets in most of their recent knockout games, though they did concede an own-goal against Bahrain this year.
Japan has a strong record against Iran, including a 3-0 win in the last Asian Cup semi-finals.
Iran played without Sadegh Moharrami and Morteza Pouraliganji due to injuries against Syria and will miss top scorer Mehdi Taremi because of a yellow card suspension.
Iran made three lineup changes for the round of 16, with Ramin Rezaeian, Rouzbeh Cheshmi, and Alireza Jahanbakhsh replacing others.
Taremi has been crucial for Iran, scoring their recent goals, while goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand saved a crucial penalty in the last round.
Reo Hatate is out for Japan after getting injured against Bahrain, but Kaoru Mitoma played his first game of the tournament then.
Takuma Asano celebrated his 50th cap recently, with Takehiro Tomiyasu reaching 40 caps, Wataru Endo nearing 60, and Ko Itakura playing his 25th game against Bahrain.
Ueda scored twice for Japan in the last round, despite one being an own goal, but Ritsu Doan and Takefusa Kubo secured the win before that mistake.
Iran possible starting lineup:
Rezaeian, Cheshmi, Khalilzadeh, Hajsafi;
Torabi, Ansarifard, Ghayedi;
Japan possible starting lineup:
Maikuma, Itakura, Tomiyasu, Nakayama;
Kubo, Endo, J. Ito;
Prediction: Iran 1-3 Japan
With Iran facing defensive injuries, Japan might exploit these weaknesses, while Iran could struggle offensively without Taremi.