Iran, Japan look to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup quarterfinals on Wednesday

Iran, Japan look to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup quarterfinals on Wednesday

QLNews
By QLNews

Though the Round of 16 phase of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup will formally come to an end on Wednesday, it will sign off with two cracking games which is sure to send fans’ pulses raising.

In the day’s first game, four-time Asian champions Japan will take on Bahrain, whose never-say-die spirit has been in full view during the tournament. With Japan facing some difficulties this year, the match could be quite an intriguing one.

The second game will see title favourites Iran play Syria in another potentially thrilling match. The Iranians have been ruthless in the group stages, but they will have to face a Syrian side that have been playing the games of their lives.

With the stakes sky high, here is a look at how the four teams are looking ahead of their crucial clashes.     

BAHRAIN VS JAPAN

Kick-off: 2:30pm
Venue: Al Thumama Stadium

Japan head coach Hajime Moriyasu believes criticism of his team’s performances so far at the 2023 AFC Asian Cup are a sign of the new standards set by the Samurai Blue as he prepares for the four-time champions’ Round of 16 meeting with Bahrain on Wednesday.

The Japanese qualified for the knockout rounds with a second-place finish in Group D despite a 1-2 loss against Iraq, setting up the meeting with Group E winners Bahrain.

But a lack of their usual fluency and defensive deficiencies that have seen them fail to keep a clean sheet so far in the competition have seen hopes of success for Moriyasu’s team called into question.

“It’s a sign of respect for us when people say we’re struggling because that shows we’ve high expectations placed on us. People know that we can play better,” said Moriyasu.

“But Asian teams are growing, not only us. All Asian countries are growing and getting more competitive, and the gap between the top teams and the lower teams has been cut,” he added.

Moriyasu’s side came into the tournament in a rich vein of form having won nine matches in a row – including defeating Germany 4-1 in Wolfsburg in September – scoring 39 goals in the process to build on their impressive performances at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.

But, after the loss to Iraq and conceding five goals so far at the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023, doubts have been raised over their ability to sustain a challenge for a record-extending fifth continental crown.

“We’ve to learn from our mistakes in the first three games, but that doesn’t mean we’ve any worries about our defence,” said Moriyasu.

Bahrain go into the game off the back of a 1-0 win over Jordan, which earned Juan Antonio Pizzi’s side pole position in their group ahead of a South Korea side that had defeated the West Asians 3-1 in their opening match of the tournament.

The return of Czech Republic-based striker Abdulla Yusuf against the Jordanians, after starting the first two games on the bench, bolstered Pizzi’s side and the Argentinian could look for the towering forward again to cause problems for Japan’s backline.

“Japan are a tough team with a lot of strengths but they’ve weaknesses that we need to exploit in order to be able to come out on top. Pizzi. “Hopefully we’ll be able to implement our philosophy,” said Pizzi.

IRAN VS SYRIA

Kick-off: 7:00pm
Venue: Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium

Head coach Amir Ghalenoei has warned his Iranian side against making mistakes when they take on Syria in the AFC Asian Cup Round of 16 at Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium.

Team Melli topped Group C with the full nine points, in the process scoring seven goals and conceding just two, but now face the challenge of a Syria team who were one of the most defensively sound sides of the group stage, having conceded only one goal in Group B.

“I think this is one of the most important matches in this tournament,” said Ghalenoei.

“We’ll face a team that’s disciplined. We should make less mistakes and be tactically and technically better than in our previous two matches. We know we can’t afford to make any mistakes. We Iraq and the the UAE get eliminated, so we need to be very careful with our performance.”

Iran are set to miss two key defenders, but Ghalenoei remained confident in his squad’s ability to deliver, urging them to show their quality against a team that is difficult to break down.

“At this moment we don’t have Sadegh Moharrami and Morteza Pouraliganji, but not much else. All of the players we’ve and the squad we’ve now can be with us until the next World Cup, so we aren’t planning on making any generational shifts. Any changes will be gradual.”

At the age of 68, Syria head coach Hector Cuper boasts one of the most impressive managerial resumes in the tournament, having reached European finals with Spanish clubs Mallorca and Valencia as well as an Africa Cup of Nations final with Egypt in 2017, and the Argentina tactician believes that despite not winning any of those finals, he can be proud of his achievements.

“I may’ve been unfortunate in some of the finals.  I might’ve made mistakes that cost me these finals, but to be able to reach so many finals including big competitions like the UEFA Champions League is a success in my opinion,” said Cuper.

Facing the second-highest ranked Asian team in Iran, the challenge will be complicated for the Eagles of Qasioun, who are competing in the AFC Asian Cup knockout stage for the first time in their history.

“We know it’ll be a very difficult game against one of the strongest teams in Asia, but we’re excited, motivated, and optimistic. We’ve been preparing as usual, we want to use the positive feelings that we’ve to push us through.

“My ambition right now is to beat Iran, it isn’t about limited ambition, but in order to reach your bigger ambitions, you always have to pass the first steps first, then we can look into the future,” he said.

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