AL AIN (United Arab Emirates): A second-half double from Yuyo Osako carried Japan into the Asian Cup final with a 3-0 win over Iran on Monday and ensured Team Melli’s 43-year title drought goes on.
Werder Bremen forward Osako headed the opener in 56 minutes to beat Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand for the first time in the tournament and then converted a controversial penalty to make the game safe. Genki Haraguchi added a third in stoppage time.
Japan will now bid to win a record-extending fifth Asian Cup in Friday’s Abu Dhabi final against either the hosting United Arab Emirates or Qatar, who play the second semifinal on Tuesday.
Iran have not been to the final since the last of three successive victories in 1976 and have now lost six semifinals in that time.
Both sides were unbeaten going into the clash at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain but it was Japan who upped their game decisively in the second period.
The Iran defence hesitated when it looked like Mohammad Kanani fouled Takumi Minamino but Australian referee Chris Beath waved play on while not penalising the Japanese for diving.
Minamino scampered towards the corner flag and with Beiranvand horribly misjudging his cross, Osako had a simple task to complete the move started by his own neat reverse pass.
Iran tried to rally but were left fuming in the 67th minute when Morteza Pouraliganji’s trailing hand blocked Minamino’s cross and Beath pointed to the spot.
Despite television pictures showing contact was accidental — and Pouraliganji was simply trying to soften his landing after sliding — the decision stood. Osako calmly sent Beiranvand the wrong way with the kick.
Iran never recovered and it was Hajime Moriyasu’s slick Japan who looked more likely to add to the scoreline on the break.
Haraguchi ran clear, again with Minamino the supplier, to chip Beiranvand in injury time before the game ended amid a flurry of small confrontations as Iran’s anger boiled over.
Earlier, Ritsu Doan turned wide with Japan’s best chance of the first half before Iran came into the contest. Only a superb save from Shuichi Gonda stopped Sardar Azmoun breaking the deadlock from six yards.
With winger Mehdi Taremi suspended, Iran were struggling for creativity and coach Carlos Queiroz threw on forward Karim Ansarifard straight after conceding.
Mahdi Torabi and Saman Ghoddos soon followed but they could not threaten Gonda, whose save from Alireza Jahanbakhsh’s free kick at 1-0 was his last real action in the match.
Japan coped without midfielder Wataru Endo, who was stretchered off injured, to win their fifth semifinal from six visits to the last four since 1992.