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AFC Asian Cup: Down To The Last Four

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SYDNEY – After two days of pulsating quarter-final action, the AFC Asian Cup Australia 2015 now has four teams left standing. Join us as we take a look back at the breathtaking quarter-finals.

China 0-2 Australia

After a group stage that eclipsed an eight-decade record for the amount of consecutive matches without a draw, three out of the four quarter-finals went into extra-time with only Australia getting the job done in the regulation 90 minutes as the tournament hosts ran out 2-0 winners over China

Undefeated China had the better of the early exchanges in the first half but were made to pay for not making the most of their chances in the first-half hour when Socceroos’ stalwart Tim Cahill extended his international goal-scoring record to 39 goals; the first a crowd-pleasing bicycle kick four minutes after the interval and then a trademark header in the 68th minute to cap the win.

The brace was Cahill’s third of the campaign having cancelled out Hussain Fadhel’s eighth-minute opener in the Group A curtain-raiser as Australia took their first steps on the road to the semi-finals with a 4-1 win over Kuwait before Ange Postecoglou made the most of his squad depth with a number of changes in the subsequent 4-0 win over Oman and the 1-0 loss to Korea Republic that saw the Taeguk Warriors top the table above the Socceroos.

Korea Republic 2-0 Uzbekistan

Korea Republic’s reward for defeating Australia to the Group A top spot, which they achieved with their third successive single goal win, was a quarter-final clash with Group B runners-up Uzbekistan.

Both sides had their fair share of chances in a goalless, but thoroughly entertaining 90 minutes, with Kim Jin-hyeon the busier of the two keepers in the opening exchanges before Kim’s counterpart Ignatiy Nesterov kept the Uzbeks in contention with a fine double block midway through the first half and a number of fine saves after the interval.

Both sides enjoyed a large slice of luck towards the end of regulation time with substitute Lutfulla Turaev heading wide with Kim’s goal at his mercy before the Koreans let the Uzbeks off the hook when Nam Tae-hee failed to connect with a glorious goal-scoring opportunity as the tournament witnessed its first draw after 90 minutes.

Having struggled with illness during the Group Stage Son Heung-min had not shown the form the Bayer Leverkusen’s pre-match hype had suggested but the back-to-back KFA Footballer of the Year stole the show with an extra-time double, with Nesterov unable to keep out his 104th minute header before Son sealed the Taeguk Warrior’s place in the semi-finals five minutes into the second period with an unstoppable drive from Cha Du-ri’s cutback

Japan 1-1 UAE. aet (4-5 on penalties)

After a somewhat sluggish start Korea Republic have emerged as genuine title contenders, a status that was shared by defending champions Japan until the Samurai Blue suffered a shock elimination at the quarter-final stage by an enterprising UAE side that had impressed in the Group Stage with wins over Bahrain and Qatar as they finished runners-up in Group B behind three-time champions Iran.

A Japanese defence that hadn’t conceded in the Group Stage was breached after just seven minutes through Ali Mabkhout – scorer of the fastest goal in Asian Cup history after finding the net just 14 seconds into the UAE’s 4-1 victory over Bahrain – who should have opened the scoring moments earlier but a poor first touch allowed Japan keeper Eiji Kawashima to gather the ball ahead of the Al Jazira forward.

Japan, who lined up with the same starting 11 for the fourth successive match, dominated possession immediately after Mabkhout’s fourth of the campaign. Javier Aguirre’s side seemed pedestrian in attack and unable to find the key that would unlock a sturdy UAE defence until Gaku Shibasaki’s superb 81st minute strike drew Japan level and sent the quarter-final into extra-time.

The pattern of Japanese dominance continued in both periods of extra-time but the UAE stood firm sending the tie into penalties. Samurai Blue superstars Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa both surprisingly missed their spot-kicks – with Honda blazing wildly over the bar and Kagawa hitting the inside of the post – allowing Al Ain defender Ismail Ahmed to sweep home the winning penalty and send the UAE into the AFC Asian Cup semi-finals for the first time since they hosted the tournament in 1996.

Iran 3-3 Iraq aet. (6-7 on penalties)

The quarter-final between Iran and Iraq also went to penalties and also produced something of an upset as the Lions of Mesopotamia roared into the semis with a thrilling victory over the three-time champions, who with three wins in the Group Stage without conceding a goal confirmed their status as one of the Australia 2015 frontrunners.

Both sides contributed to what was a superb spectacle with each chapter of the match – regulation time, extra-time, and the penalty shootout – providing enough drama to see the entertaining encounter in Canberra go down as an Asian Cup classic.

Sardar Azmoun gave Iran a 24th minute lead but Iraq were given the numerical advantage going into the second half when Mehrdad Pooladi was sent off two minutes before the half-time break. The 2007 Asian Cup winners made their extra man count 11 minutes after the interval when Ahmed Yasin’s netted the equaliser that ultimately forced extra time.

Skipper Younus Mahmood, scorer of the winning goal in the 2007 final, headed Iraq into a 2-1 lead just three minutes into extra-time only for Morteza Pouraliganji to draw ten-man Iran level. Pouraliganji went from hero to villain soon after when a moment of madness saw him upend Yaser Kasim in the area enabling Dhurgham Ismail to restore Iraq’s lead with a confidently taken penalty.

But while their celebrations were curtailed when Iran dramatically drew level two minutes from time through Reza Ghoochannejhad, Iraq were not to be denied a place in the last four for the third time in their Asian Cup history when Salim Shakir held his nerve to net the winning penalty after Vahid Amiri had struck the post in sudden death. – AFC

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