Who: Iran vs Qatar
What: AFC Asian Cup 2023 semifinal
When: Wednesday, February 6, 2024, 6pm (15:00 GMT)
Where: Al Thumama Stadium, Doha, Qatar
Qatar coach Tintin Marquez Lopez says his side will face their “toughest test” in the defence of their Asian Cup crown when they face Iran in the semifinals on Wednesday.
The Spaniard has bemoaned the lack of time since their quarterfinal victory against Uzbekistan on Saturday, in which the Maroons survived a scare after extra time and penalties.
“If we speak about preparation for the game, it was a very short time,” he said. “We had only two days to prepare.
“The game will be the toughest match of the tournament for us.”
Qatar were unbeaten in the victorious 2019 campaign and are yet to taste defeat in this edition. Indeed, the draw after extra time with Uzbekistan was the first time they failed to win a match in the 2023 tournament.
‘We hope to bring joy to our fans’
Tarek Salman returned to the defence for Qatar in the quarterfinals, having been named among the substitutes in the 2-1 round of 16 victory against Palestine.
The defender echoed the thoughts of his manager that the recovery time is a concern and that those who played in the Uzbekistan win are feeling fatigued. But he hopes the occasion can carry the team.
“Everyone is excited; against Iran it will be physical,” Salman said.
“They have stars who play in big leagues in Europe so we’re motivated 200 percent.
“We hope to bring joy to our fans.”
— Qatar Football Association (@QFA_EN) February 3, 2024
Iran midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi, meanwhile, has raised doubts about the AFC appointing an Arab referee for their Asian Cup semifinal clash against the hosts and defending champions
Wednesday’s semifinal will be officiated by Kuwait’s Ahmad Al-Ali, who has taken charge of two group games and a last-16 tie at the tournament.
“What is a little bit surprising for us is that the referee for the match is from Kuwait, he’s an Arab,” Ezatolahi told reporters on Tuesday.
“We’re just wondering how it’s possible that they put an Arab as a referee for the match.
“But we are the Iran national team, we are a very big team. We have very good players, we are professional.”
Iran reached the semifinals after they beat Asia’s top-ranked side Japan 2-1 despite themselves having only two days to recover after their last-16 tie against Syria went to extra time and penalties.
Ezatolahi, like Lopez and Tarek, has criticised the lack of recovery time in the knockout stage.
“In this tournament, the players didn’t have enough time to recover, specifically in the knockout stage,” he said.
“Many of the players came straight from their clubs and are under a lot of pressure here.”
The #AsianCup2023 SEMI-FINALISTS!
— AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023 (@Qatar2023en) February 3, 2024
‘We have to be stronger than everything happening’
Iran coach Amir Ghalenoei reiterated the rest period being “less than 72 hours” before they faced Japan while he also took a shot at the video assistant referee (VAR).
“In this tournament at least, I can say that VAR was not very kind to us. We had a situation in the match against Japan that could have been a penalty on Sardar Azmoun, but VAR did not check it for us,” he said.
“But we have to be stronger than everything that is happening at this tournament.”
Iran beat Qatar 4-0 in October, but Ghalenoei urged his team to forget about previous results as they seek a place in their first final since they won their third title in 1976.
“When Qatar reached the semifinals, they showed their quality, so we need to forget our result against Qatar and forget our performance against Japan. That belongs to history now,” he said.
“We need to show more quality and we have to cover more distance compared with the match against Japan. I hope we can reach the final after nearly 50 years. I have big belief in our players.”
Jordan have lost once at the tournament already when they went down to Bahrain in the group stage match. However, they do have three wins to South Korea’s two. The last two wins were inside 90 minutes, where the Koreans required extra time in their two knock-out games so far.
Qatar: W W W W W
Iran: W W W W W
Qatar team news
Qatar have a fully fit squad to pick from, bar for a slight concern over backup keeper Salah Zakaria.
Predicted XI: Meshaal Barsham, Pedro Miguel, Mohammed Waad, Lucas Mendes, Almoez Ali, Tarek Salman, Jassem Gaber, Hassan Al-Haydos, Akram Afif, Ali Asad, Ahmed Fathi
Iran team news
Iran welcome back one of their star players after Mehdi Taremi missed their quarterfinal clash through suspension.
Sadegh Moharrami is set to miss out with a cruciate ligament injury, while Majid Hosseini is battling a sore ankle.
Predicted XI: Alireza Beiranvand, Ramin Rezaeian, Milad Mohammadi, Saeid Ezatolahi, Hossein Kanani, Shoja Khalilzadeh, Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Sardar Azmoun, Mehdi Taremi, Saman Ghoddos, Mohammad Mohebi