Sardar Azmoun starred as Asian Cup favourites Iran booked their place in the semi-finals with a straightforward 3-0 win over China.
Iran striker Azmoun set up Mehdi Taremi for an 18th-minute opener and scored one of his own after the half-hour mark, before substitute Karim Ansarifard’s strike in the first minute of second-half stoppage time guaranteed a last-four clash with Japan on Monday.
Marcello Lippi has been tipped to bring his time as China coach to an end after this tournament and his side crashed out with a whimper, all three goals being scored following defensive lapses.
Iran are yet to concede a goal in the United Arab Emirates but will be without Taremi for their semi-final after he received his second yellow card of the competition.
China failed to heed the warning after surviving an early scare when Azmoun’s header was cleared in front of goal by Zheng Zhi, the striker capitalising after Feng Xiaoting let a long ball bounce to tee up Taremi for a simple finish – his third goal in as many matches at Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium.
Taremi was denied a strong penalty appeal for a trip by Zhang Chengdong and missed a sitter from three yards, but Iran extended their lead in the 31st minute.
Azmoun profited from yet more sloppy defending by racing in behind and rounding Yan Junling, the goal allowed to stand following a brief VAR check for a potential foul on Liu Yiming.
— #AsianCup2019 (@afcasiancup) January 24, 2019
Lippi has not been afraid to tinker with his formation during matches but his reversion to a midfield diamond did not have the desired effect.
Iran sealed the three-goal win late on through Ansarifard, who made the most of a gift from Shi Ke to slot home from Taremi’s throughball five minutes after replacing Azmoun.
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