DOHA: Iran survived going down to 10 men to beat Syria 5-3 in a penalty shootout in the Asian Cup last-16 on Wednesday after the game ended 1-1 after extra time, setting up a tasty quarter-final clash with four-time champions Japan.
Iran played the last 30 minutes with 10 men after Porto striker Mehdi Taremi was sent off for a second yellow card with the game level at the end of normal time.
Syria’s Fahd Youssef saw his penalty saved by goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand in the shootout while Iran converted all their spot kicks, with skipper Ehsan Hajsafi netting the decisive one.
Midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi said he saw being dragged through extra time and penalties as “a positive”. “It is going to make us more united for Japan,” he added.
Iran coach Amir Ghalenoei said he was “not happy with two or three” of his players, without saying who. “We could have scored five goals up until the 70th minute,” he said.
He was more pleased with how they dealt with being a man down. “We were very compact and disciplined in extra time, we can be happy until tomorrow, and then we will think about Japan.”
Syria’s wily Argentine coach Hector Cuper praised his players’ “sacrifice”, adding: “I can’t ask more of them.”
The 68-year-old refused to commit his future to Syria, saying: “Next week we will sit together [with football officials] and talk and see if I will stay or if I have other options.”
Iran were one of three teams to finish the group stage with maximum points and knockout stage debutants Syria had done well to contain them until they gifted their Middle Eastern counterparts a penalty in the first half.
Aiham Ousou deliberately barged into Taremi without making any attempt to go for the ball and the Iranian striker stepped up to take the penalty, firing the spot kick into the bottom-right corner for his third goal of the tournament.
But Syria levelled when Pablo Sabbag came on as a substitute and immediately won a penalty when he beat the offside trap and was fouled by Beiranvand, with Omar Khribin calmly slotting it home to make it 1-1.
Things went from bad to worse for Iran when Taremi was sent off for a second yellow card. Having been booked for simulation earlier, Taremi fouled Alaa Al-Dali to earn another booking and reduce Iran to 10 men for the final minutes and extra time.
However, Iran managed to hold on and take the game to penalties where they were unfazed by the pressure, extending Ghalenoei’s unbeaten run to 15 games since he took charge of Team Melli in March last year.