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7,000 km from Japan, Shiotani revels in 'home' win

Al Ain: It may have taken place 7,000 kilometres from Japan, but Tsukasa Shiotani felt right at home in his side's 3-0 AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 semi-final win over Islamic Republic of Iran, staged at his club home Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.

The midfielder-cum-defender is a regular for local club Al Ain FC, and came on as a substitute shortly after Hajime Moriyasu's side took a 56th-minute lead on the way to an emphatic victory.

Shiotani said achieving such a significant national team result at the venue he has called home for the last two years was something special.

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"I can't even explain," he said. "This competition is a very big competition, as we wanted to be champions, so to be in the final and do it here... I can't explain. I am happy."

It has been a whirlwind two months for Shiotani, who has seen his national team caps more than double, and participated in momentous fixtures for both club and country, without ever leaving the UAE.

After claiming the UAE Pro League title, the former Sanfrecce Hiroshima man played a starring role as Al Ain made a sensational charge to the FIFA Club World Cup final, where Shiotani scored against Real Madrid, although the Spanish giants eventually prevailed 4-1.


Semi-final: IR Iran vs Japan

The month of January had initially been earmarked for a well-deserved rest, but an injury to Hidemasa Morita meant Shiotani, who had just two caps to his name at age 30, earned an eleventh-hour call-up.

Four appearances, and a match-winning long range screamer in the all-important final group stage clash against Uzbekistan suggest he has taken the opportunity with both hands.

"These are big moments in my life. I appreciate my teammates both in the Japan national team and my Al Ain teammates," he said. "(Al Ain teammate) Caio was here in the stadium to support me."

"Today we had to play with our full power, because Iran is a strong team."

Japan's win means they will face either United Arab Emirates or Qatar in Friday's decider, to be played, like the FIFA Club World Cup final, at Abu Dhabi's Zayed Sports City Stadium.

With those memories still fresh, Shiotani is now gearing up for another big occasion, and - with seven Al Ain players in the United Arab Emirates squad - hoping there will be familiar faces on both sides.

"Yes of course (I will support the United Arab Emirates), and I hope they reach the final," he said.

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