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 Japan show resilience to make final

Tabriz: Japan rose to the occasion as they defeated reigning champions Islamic Republic of Iran 8-4 to seal their place in the final of the AFC U-20 Futsal Championship IR Iran 2019 on Thursday.

It was a match worthy of a final, as it featured two teams with intense rivalry.

Japan, who were making their first semi-final appearance, had a bright start when goalkeeper Tabuchi Hiroshi’s long throw found Takehiro Motoishi in the box, but Takahashi Yudai shot the subsequent pass straight at Mohammadali Niknamtorghabe.

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Four minutes into the game, Japan were awarded a free-kick after Mahdi Dehghannezhad had brought Matsukawa Kota down just outside the box, which cost Iran dearly, as the East Asians demonstrated their set-piece prowess with Hashimoto Reira finding the back of the net.

In all three of their previous games, Iran had not conceded a goal first, which forced them to turn on the power and they began pushing Japan back into their half.

Ali Akrami came extremely close in the ninth minute after a series of passes saw the ball at his feet but he was denied by the upright, but it mattered little, as Iran drew level a minute later through a set-piece, with Masoud Yousef Shavardazi etching his name on the scoresheet after unleashing a crackling left-footed strike.

Japan were reduced to making quick passes within their own final third due to the Iranian pressure, and paid the price for a lapse in concentration by their defence when Iran’s Sajjad Sarbaz intercepted Hatakeyama Yuki’s back pass inside the box, and the forward made no mistake in beating Hiroshi in the 18th minute.

Iran's lead, however, lasted less than 30 seconds when Yamada Kaito was left to his own devices on the left flank, where he then surged down the court before sending it to Otsuka Hiroto to redirect the ball into the goal mouth from close range.

Japan dominated possession in the opening minutes of the second half, and while they suffered a scare in the 22nd minute when Salar Aghapour and Reza Ghanbarisaeidabad were denied by Hiroshi, a moment of brilliance from Osawa Mashashi from outside the box caught the Iranian ‘keeper off guard in the 24th minute.

Backed by a thunderous home crowd, it didn’t take long for Iran to find the equaliser, this time Dehghannezhad stealing the spotlight after he outmuscled Kimura Yuta in front of the box and drilled his strike home.

The tenacious Dehghannezhad showed that he is unstoppable when presented with a chance at the edge of the box, as he put Iran back in front with a strike similar to his previous effort.

With four minutes left on the clock, Kaito came off the bench as Japan’s fifth attacking member. He was then brought down right outside the box, but Motoishi failed to beat Niknamtorghabe with his free-kick.

Japan’s power play almost backfired in the 39th minute when Belal Esmaeili Kooraneh intercepted a pass but his strike from distance missed the target by mere inches as the ball bounced off the post.

There was to be drama in the final 40 seconds when Japan were awarded a penalty for a harsh tackle on Masashi, and Motoishi was perfect in converting from the spot to bring the game into extra time.

Japan’s set-pieces had been impressive throughout the tournament and the young Samurai Blue struck in the 43rd minute from one of those when Motoishi let loose a long range strike that deflected off Niknamtorghabe and into the path of Rintaro Iguchi, who simply tapped the ball in with ease.

It was through a set-piece yet again in the 47th minute, as Jiei Yamada opened his tournament account, before captain Hatakeyama Yuki and Kimura Yuta also got into the goalscoring action with long range strikes into an unguarded goalmouth after Iran had opted for power play.

Iran had no chance of making a comeback, especially when Sahand Rezapour was given his marching orders just moments later, and the 2017 champions must now face Indonesia in the third-place play-off on Saturday.

Hamid Moghadam: IR Iran head coach

“Futsal has always been like that, and today we were not lucky. I thought we could win, even in the final 30 seconds. I’m satisfied with my players, they did their best. We had opportunities to score, but sometimes we’re unlucky. We hit the post twice when they were doing power play. It’s going be difficult to motivate my team now, and I’m afraid and worried my players will not emotionally recover from this. It’s going to be an even harder match against Indonesia, compared to the one today.”

Ryuji Suzuki: Japan head coach

“Firstly, I really appreciate this chance to play against a strong team like Iran. I expected them to play more energetically with the support of the fans in the stadium, but we never gave up, and stuck together as a family to win. I still have my focus on the final, and how we are going to prepare for it. It will definitely be a hard game against Afghanistan.”

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