We’re not done yet, says IR Iran’s Shojaei
Songkhla: Their AFC U23 Championship Thailand 2020 knockout stage hopes may be hanging by a thread, but Islamic Republic of Iran wide man Ali Shojaei refuses to give up on a place in the last eight.
Sunday’s 2-1 loss to Korea Republic means Team Melli Omid must beat eliminated China PR on Wednesday, and hope the Koreans beat Uzbekistan on the other side of the country, if they are to have any chance of continuing their campaign into a second week.
Early elimination would dash Iran’s hopes of ending their much-discussed 44-year Olympic football qualification drought, and Shojaei told the-AFC.com he has no intention of giving up on his Tokyo dream until the chance is gone.
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“This competition is not finished for us. We know it,” declared the FC Nassaji Mazandaran youngster.
“It’s been two years that this squad have been trying to be better and better every day, and we have given our best for the whole two years.
“This final match, you said it right, it’s life or death for us, and it’s the last chance. We want to be the winner in this match, and nothing else.”
Iran’s tally of one point from two matches is all the more frustrating given they enjoyed impressive periods in both their opening 1-1 draw with defending champions Uzbekistan and Sunday’s defeat to the table-topping Koreans.
A listless 25-minute period before half-time cost Iran dearly in the latter match, however, and a relatively strong second half display wasn’t enough to overcome a 2-0 half-time deficit.
The damage had already been done when Shojaei was introduced as a 43rd minute substitute, and he revealed his disappointment at his side’s inconsistent performance.
“I think we had two different 45-minute periods,” said Shojaei.
“The Korean team is a professional team, and when they scored two goals on us it became quite difficult to come back into the match.”
Despite their first-half disaster, Iran could still have snatched a point in the dying minutes of that match, had it not been for the heroics of Korean shot-stopper Song Bum-keun, who denied a goal-bound Shojaei strike deep in injury-time with what turned out to be a match-winning block.
It was a top class save from one Asia’s brightest young goalkeepers, and Shojaei admitted that he thought he had done enough to score.
“I think the goalkeeper in that moment was really great,” he recalled. “It was an unbelievable reaction from him.
"The pass that Reza Dehghani gave me was a very good one, and I tried to shoot with all the power I had.
“It was really difficult for the goalkeeper, but his reaction was great. I couldn’t believe it, really.”
Islamic Republic of Iran’s all-important clash with China will be held at Songkhla’s Tinsulanon Stadium on Wednesday, while Uzbekistan will face Korea Republic at Thammasat Stadium in Pathum Thani.
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