World: Asian Cup
2 - 1
(0 - 1)
M. Mohebi (55), A. Jahanbakhsh (90)
H. Morita (28)
By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

Itakura concedes crucial late penalty that sees Japan eliminated from AFC Cup

A penalty conceded by Borussia Mönchengladbach central defender Ko Itakura proved decisive on Saturday as the Iranian national football team was able to snatch a late victory against Japan and advance to the 2023 AFC Asian Cup semi-finals. 

Iran's "Team Melli" have exacted revenge over Hajime Moriyasu's "Samurai Blue" for their semi-final elimination in the most recent edition of the continental championship back in 2019. 

Four Bundesliga professionals (Itakura, Ritsu Doan of Freiburg, Hiroki Ito of Stuttgart, and Takuma Asano of Bochum) are all headed back to the Bundesrepublik without a medal or ribbon.
Something had to give as two traditional Asian footballing powerhouses met in a 2023 AFC Asian Cup quarterfinal tie on Saturday afternoon. Two Bundesliga professionals played a decisive role in the ultimate result. Current Bayer 04 Leverkusen loan-out Sardar Azmoun registered an assist on an important equalizer for his Iranian national football team. Ko Itakura of Borussia Mönchengladbach, meanwhile, committed a foul in the box that enabled the Iranians to snatch a late winner against Japan's "Samurai Blue" and advance to the next round.

Japanese trainer Hajime Moriyasu - known for tinkering relentlessly with his personnel in major tournaments - built an XI that featured three German club representatives this time. VfB Stuttgart defender Hiroki Ito once again returned to the starting lineup for the first time since the second round of group-stage play. SC Freiburg attacker Ritsu Doan maintained the starting slot he's occupied since the third round. Gladbach defender Itakura (rested once) has been starting in central defense since the beginning of the competition. Moriyas saw no need to rotate him out.

Despite being the less active team offensively in the first-half, Japan took the lead via a Hidemasa Morita goal in the 21st minute. Amir Ghalenoei's Persians were unable to officially respond until ten minutes after the restart. Azmoun and the rest of the team missed many chances to equalize. Finally, Mohammed Mohebi put away a fine Azmoun through-ball for the 1-1 in the 55th. Azmoun saw a goal disallowed shortly thereafter due to offside. Mohebi narrowly missed two more chances at the lead after that. Japan remained back on their heels and rarely advanced past the halfway line.

The Iranian assault proved relentless. Another goal nevertheless did not come. Chances dwindled as the match entered into second-half injury time. Extra time seemed inevitable until Itakura's foul at 90+5. Iranian skipper Alireza Jahanbakhsh put away the 2-1 from the spot at 90+6. Itakura, Ito, and (for all intents and purposes) Doan went the full 90 minutes. Doan was pulled for Bochum's Takuma Asano at 90+8. The trio that went the distance proved woefully ineffective on this day, producing practically nothing of note during what was an overall poor match for their team.

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