Carlos Queiroz is hoping Iran can exorcise the pain of four years ago when they go up against China in the quarter-finals of the 2019 Asian Cup.
The top-ranked side in the continent have not lifted the trophy since 1976 and were defeated by neighbours Iraq in a dramatic penalty shoot-out in Australia at the same stage in 2015.
Head coach Queiroz acknowledges that in knockout football there is little margin for error but urged his team – 2-0 winners over Gulf Cup champions Oman in the last 16 – to embrace the challenge in Abu Dhabi.
“No two games in football are ever the same, in football it is always a different story,” said Queiroz, whose team are undefeated in the competition.
“The game versus China is a new game, a new adventure, and one in which we can try to do our absolute best.
“However, what is key is to remember all the lessons we have learned – both when we have won and when we have lost – and put them to good use.
“This is just like a cup final as they are games which do not have a history, they do not have a past.
“This type of cup final match is very different to those we faced in the group stage and I believe the experience my players have will count for something in the game.”
“I went into the fans, kissed her hands, hugged her, and thanked her.”
— #AsianCup2019 (@afcasiancup) January 23, 2019
China had to come from behind to defeat Thailand 2-1, with substitute Xiao Zhi’s effort followed by Gao Lin’s penalty four minutes later, in the round of 16.
Marcello Lippi’s side faced Iran twice in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, losing 1-0 and drawing 0-0, and the veteran Italian coach believes China are facing the strongest team in the tournament.
“Obviously Iran are one of the top teams in Asia, they played well at the World Cup and here too, are physically very strong, organised and have very good quality,” he said.
“From what we know of Iran, we know that we must be tactically perfect against them.”
China, who will take a late call on Wu Lei (shoulder), do have a defeat to their name against South Korea, but Lippi says the team have been preparing well in training.
“We have been working hard correcting our mistakes and I am confident my players are ready for what will definitely be a very hard match, but one which I think we can do well in,” he added.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
China – Xiao Zhi
Veteran Guangzhou R&F striker Xiao has been consigned to a bench role during the Asian Cup, but he proved the super sub for Lippi’s men against Thailand, scoring just three minutes after his introduction. It was a particularly memorable strike as it was the 100th of the tournament – the first time the competition has ever racked up a century of goals, earning Xiao a commemorative ball.
Iran – Alireza Beiranvand
While the likes of Sardar Azmoun and Alireza Jahanbakhsh take the plaudits at the other end of the pitch, Beiranvand has continued to see his stock rise this tournament. Regarded as one of the best, if not the best, goalkeepers in Asia, Beiranvand saved Ahmed Kano’s penalty early in the win over Oman and made a few other crucial stops to save his side.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– China have failed to beat Iran in their previous six Asian Cup encounters (D4 L2), although they did progress to the 2004 final after a 4-3 win on penalties in the last four.
– China have only kept one clean sheet in their last 11 knockout games, a 3-0 win against Iraq in the 2004 quarter-finals.
– Iran have kept clean sheets in their opening four games at the 2019 Asian Cup (also Qatar); only South Korea have kept shutouts in the first five games at an Asian Cup tournament (five in 2015).
– Since the start of the 2004 Asian Cup, Iran have only lost one of their 22 games in the competition, excluding penalty shoot-outs (W14 D7 L1), a 1-0 defeat to South Korea in the 2011 last eight.
– Iran’s Azmoun has recorded 22 shots in his four games in the 2019 Asian Cup; two more than any other player at the tournament.
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