Two pre-tournament favourites do battle in the first semi-final of the Asian Cup, as the confederation’s highest-ranked nation, the Islamic Republic of Iran (29th), take on four-time winners Japan (50th).
Iran, joint-leading goalscorers for the tournament alongside fellow semi-finalists Qatar, have been excellent at the back recently, with their ruthless 3-0 quarter-final win over China representing their fifth clean sheet from five matches in the tournament.
This is Iran’s first semi-final appearance since 2004 (and their eighth from 14 appearances) so expect another disciplined performance, especially as they have not conceded more than one goal in any of their last 15 fixtures dating back to June 2018 (inc. friendlies).
Japan scraped past a valiant Vietnam in the quarter-finals with a second-half spot kick, holding on defensively to triumph despite conceding more shots than the opposition. When reaching the semi-finals of an Asian Cup, they have gone on to win the tournament on four of five occasions.
They, too, have proven solid in defence since a scratchy opening match performance against Turkmenistan, conceding just once in four fixtures since. When conceding first in this tournament, they have come from behind to win on both occasions.
Players to watch: Sardar Azmoun has led the way for the Iranians, with a tournament-leading 22 shots yielding four goals. FC Groningen’s Ritsu Doan, who scored from the spot against Vietnam, leads the Japanese team – in terms of goal-scoring chances created – with nine.
Stat attack: Just four of Iran’s last 15 fixtures have produced over 2.5 total goals (inc. friendlies).
Japan have conceded more fouls at the tournament than any other nation but China P.R.
These teams have met on four occasions this century, with two draws and one win apiece, last drawing 1-1 in 2015.
Referee: Beath C. (Aus),
Venue: Hazza bin Zayed Stadium (Al Ain)