Qatar has the chance to be the third country this century to make it to the Asian Cup final two times in a row when they face Iran on Wednesday at Al Thumama Stadium.
Iran beat Japan 2-1 in the quarter-finals, scoring a last-minute penalty to win, while the current champions defeated Uzbekistan in a penalty shootout after their game ended 1-1.
For the second time in a row, Iran has reached the semi-finals of the Asian Cup, keeping their unbeaten streak alive at 18 games across all competitions.
Saturday was a significant day for Amir Ghalenoei, who led Iran in the 2007 Asian Cup. They were eliminated in the quarter-finals by South Korea in a penalty shootout.
Iran has many skilled players playing in top European leagues. Their determination has brought them to this stage, overcoming a tough match in the last 16 and achieving their first comeback win in this tournament since 2011 (2-1 against Iraq) on Saturday.
With a win on Wednesday, Iran could reach their first Asian Cup final since 1976, a tournament they hosted and won. However, they have lost their last six semi-final matches in this competition.
The last time Iran led in an Asian Cup semi-final was in 1988, when Saudi Arabia defeated them in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw.
Iran has not lost in their last 10 games against Qatar, winning six in a row and not conceding in six of their last seven encounters with the Maroons.
In a thrilling quarter-final, Qatar managed to win thanks to excellent goalkeeping.
A mistake by Utkir Yusupov put Qatar ahead, and despite missing two penalties in the shootout, Uzbekistan failed three times, allowing the Maroons to win their second consecutive Asian Cup quarter-final after previous exits in 2000 and 2011.
Before the knockout stage of the Asian Cup, Tintin Marquez’s team had only allowed one goal in six competitive games, but they have conceded in both the round of 16 and quarter-finals, which is one more than in the 2019 Asian Cup knockout phase.
With a win on Wednesday, they would be the first host nation to reach the final since Australia in 2015 and just the third in the 2000s to get to that crucial match.
Their dramatic win on Saturday made them the first defending champion to advance past the quarter-finals since Japan in 2007 (fourth place).
The Maroons have not lost in 12 consecutive Asian Cup matches and haven’t been defeated in a knockout game in this tournament since the 2011 quarter-finals (3-2 against Japan).
Iran Asian Cup form:
W W W W W
Iran form (all competitions):
W W W W W W
Qatar Asian Cup form:
W W W W W
Qatar form (all competitions):
L W W W W W
Iran might play without Sadegh Moharrami due to a knee injury, Majid Hosseini is dealing with an ankle issue, and Mehdi Taremi was suspended for the quarter-final.
Four changes were made to the Iranian lineup in the quarter-finals, with Milad Mohammadi, Hossein Kanaanizadegan, Omid Ebrahimi, and Mohammad Mohebi stepping in for Ehsan Hajsafi, Rouzbeh Cheshmi, Taremi, and Mehdi Ghayedi.
Mohebi scored the tying goal against Japan before Alireza Jahanbakhsh scored the winning penalty.
Qatar’s only significant injury concern is reserve goalkeeper Salah Zakaria, who has an unspecified issue.
Two new starters appeared for Qatar in their last game, Al-Mahdi Ali Mukhtar and Tarek Salman, taking the places of Boualem Khoukhi and Bassam Al-Rawi.
Meshaal Barsham saved three penalties from Uzbekistan, helping Mukhtar and Almoez Ali, who missed their shots, by making the decisive fifth penalty.
Iran possible starting lineup:
Rezaeian, Kanaanizadegan, Khalilzadeh, Hajsafi;
Jahanbakhsh, Taremi, Mohebi;
Qatar possible starting lineup:
Al-Rawi, Mukhtar, Mendes;
Ro-Ro, Gaber, Fatehi, Al-Haydos, Muneer;
Prediction: Iran 0-1 Qatar
This game could swing either way as both teams have faced tough challenges and found ways to prevail.
However, we’re leaning towards the hosts due to their solid defense and experience in tight matches and knockout stages.