Goalkeeper saves Qatar in shootout to set up Iran semi at Asian Cup

AFP , Saturday 3 Feb 2024

Goalkeeper Meshaal Barsham was Qatar's hero as the hosts and holders beat Uzbekistan 3-2 on penalties on Saturday to put them into an Asian Cup semi-final with Japan's conquerors Iran.

Meshaal Barsham
Members of team Qatar throw goalkeeper Meshaal Barsham in air to celebrate their win in the Asian Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Qatar and Uzbekistan at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024. AP


Barsham saved three times in the penalty shootout after the quarter-final with Uzbekistan ended 1-1 following 120 minutes of stalemate.

Pedro Miguel slotted in the winning penalty for Qatar in front of almost 60,000 fans at the tent-like Al-Bayt Stadium north of Doha.

The triumphant Qatar players tossed Barsham in the air at the end.

Qatar had won their four previous games at the tournament but they were given a stiffer test by Uzbekistan, who some had tipped as dark horses to lift the trophy.

Qatar opened the scoring midway through the first half when captain Hassan Al-Haydos forced an own goal from Utkir Yusupov, the goalkeeper flapping the ball into his own net.

But Uzbekistan levelled just before the hour when Odiljon Hamrobekov broke free of the Qatar defence and drilled a shot into the corner of the net.

Both teams had chances to snatch a winner in second-half injury time, and Qatar's Almoez Ali also went close as extra time drew to a frantic close.

The first semi-final is on Tuesday when Son Heung-min's South Korea face Jordan, before Qatar and Iran face off the next evening.

Iran late show

Alireza Jahanbakhsh scored a 96th-minute penalty to give Iran a dramatic 2-1 win over Japan in their quarter-final.

It capped a stunning comeback from Iran, who were behind at the break but roared back to dump out the pre-tournament favourites and keep alive their dream of a first Asian title since 1976.

Hidemasa Morita gave Japan, who were looking to lift the trophy for a record-extending fifth time, the lead midway through the first half in front of 36,000 at Education City Stadium.

Mohammad Mohebi drew Iran -- themselves champions three times -- level 10 minutes after half time and they dominated the remainder of the game.

But just when it looked like extra time, Kou Itakura brought Hossein Kanaanizadegan down in the box and skipper Jahanbakhsh held his nerve to spark delirium on the pitch and in the stands.

Iran coach Amir Ghalenoei said his players were "fantastic" in the second half.

"They gave everything for the Iranian people," he said.

"This can be a turning point for Iranian football."

Ghalenoei, whose side squeezed through on penalties over Syria in the last 16, took a potshot at critics back home.

"I am not saying criticism is not good, but some people in the last 11 months tried to ruin the national team," he said.

Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu said his side must improve "in many aspects" and took full responsibility for their premature exit.

"I feel sorry for our supporters and everyone involved in Japanese football," said Moriyasu.

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