Abu Dhabi: Iran coach Carlos Queiroz warned of the Asian Cup’s apex predators on Thursday after his title chasers ruthlessly dispatched China 3-0 to set up a semifinal against Japan.
Ritsu Doan scored from the spot in Japan’s 1-0 win over Vietnam earlier in the day as the video assistant referee system marked its tournament debut with a bang.
Iran continued their quest to end a barren run at the Asian Cup dating back 43 years with Mehdi Taremi, Sardar Azmoun and Karim Ansarifard all on target in Abu Dhabi.
But Queiroz insisted his side should not be labelled title favourites, despite ending Marcello Lippi’s reign as China coach in such clinical fashion.
“Now we know the big sharks will come for us,” said the former Real Madrid boss.
“The suit of favourites doesn’t fit us. Japan, Korea are coming, so we need to be more alert — what we did against China will not be enough.”
Iran drew first blood after 18 minutes of a lop-sided quarterfinal when Azmoun squared for Taremi to sweep home after some calamitous Chinese defending.
Their second was almost a carbon copy — much to the chagrin of Lippi, who stood staring in horror.
This time Liu Yiming misjudged a hopeful punt down-field, allowing Azmoun to nip in and round goalkeeper Yan Junling to score his fourth of the tournament.
China’s best chance came after just six minutes when Hao Junmin wriggled free, only for Iran defender Ramin Rezaeian to slide in with a superb goal line clearance.
Iran could have been out of sight by half-time as Azmoun — dubbed the “Iranian Messi” — twice went close and Taremi missed a sitter, before picking up a yellow card that rules him out of the semifinal.
After Ehsan Hajsafi had forced a sharp save from Yan on the hour mark, Ansarifard raced clear to add a third in stoppage time.
It was another dominant performance from Iran, who also equalled South Korea’s record of keeping clean sheets in their first five games at a single Asian Cup.
China finished runners-up in 1984 and 2004 but the sleeping giants of Asian football were no match for Iran as their challenge ended in a whimper.
“Many people might have expected this result, but I’m angry at how it happened,” growled Lippi, who is stepping down after two years in charge.
“You cannot afford to gift a team like Iran three goals,” added the 70-year-old, who steered his native Italy to World Cup glory in 2006.
“It has been a huge honour to be the coach of China. I wish it didn’t have to end on such a gloomy note.”
Japan won the last of their record four Asian Cups in 2011 and have hardly set the world alight at this tournament.
But the Blue Samurai had too much quality for Vietnam in Dubai, Doan converting the spot kick on 57 minutes after a penalty awarded by VAR technology.
Japan captain Maya Yoshida also had a headed goal chalked off for hand-ball on review in a game Hajime Moriyasu’s side never looked like losing.
“It doesn’t matter how you win — the important thing is to get through,” said Moriyasu.
“We knew Vietnam would be obdurate opponents but the players kept their focus and we move on.”
On Friday, holders Australia face hosts UAE, while South Korea — runners-up to the Socceroos four years ago — take on Qatar. — AFP