Contribute To Us:
Follow us: TwitterinstagramFacebookYoutubeTikTokSoundcloudiTunesSpotifyGoogle Podcasts

Gol Bezan is Iranian Football's 1st Dedicated Podcast. We cover everything surrounding the Iran National Team, Persian Gulf Pro League & Legionnaires. We exclusively interview players, coaches & other notable figures within Iranian and Asian football.

PREVIEW: Iran vs. Qatar | 2023 AFC Asian Cup - Team News, Opposition Insight, Predictions and More

06.02.24PREVIEW: Iran vs. Qatar | 2023 AFC Asian Cup - Team News, Opposition Insight, Predictions and More

2023 AFC Asian Cup Semi-Final, Wednesday Feb. 7, 2024: Iran vs. Qatar

6 PM local time

Location: Doha, Qatar (Al Thumama Stadium)

Iran pulled off an upset to defeat Japan 2-1 thanks to a last-minute penalty to advance to the 2023 AFC Asian Cup Semifinals.


Iran vs. Japan: a match fit for a final, and the first match of the tournament where Iran entered as underdogs, especially without arguably star player Mehdi Taremi due to a suspension. With much buzz surrounding the starting lineup, Manager Amir Ghalenoei opted to go with Milad Mohammadi and Mohammad Mohebi instead of Captain Ehsan Hajsafi and Mehdi Ghayedi on the left-hand side. This move was initially unpopular amongst the Team Melli fanbase. Ghalenoei also decided to play Saman Ghoddos behind striker Sardar Azmoun and started 35-year old Omid Ebrahimi alongside Saeid Ezatolahi in midfield. 

The first half started as expected with Japan controlling most of the possession and Iran trying to hit the Samurai Blue on the counter by going direct. In the 28th minute, Japanese midfielder Hidemasa Morita scored after dribbling past the right and central defense, and an unbalanced Alireza Beiranvand could not keep it out with his feet as Japan took an early lead. 

But Iran would come into the second half with force. In the 55th minute, Sardar Azmoun played a beautiful through-ball to Mohammad Mohebi who equalized, showing that Ghalenoei’s bold lineup decision paid off. Iran now looked like the team that was going to find a winner. Just a few minutes after Mohebi’s goal, Sardar Azmoun was in behind Japan’s center backs and scored a beautiful solo goal that was ruled out by VAR. The newly-implemented semi-automatic offside technology showed a piece of Azmoun’s shoulder and left buttcheek was behind the last defender. Mohebi had a great chance to get his second goal of the match with a header on the back post of a great cross from Ramin Rezaeian, but it instead hit the side netting. 

Then, with just one minute remaining in stoppage time when the match seemed to be destined for extra time, Japanese center-back Kou Itakura missed a clearance and took down Hossein Kanaani. The referee immediately signaled for a penalty.
After Saman Ghoddos first stood at the penalty spot to wade the goalkeeper’s attempt at any mindgames, up stepped matchday Captain Alireza Jahanbakhsh, who blasted into the top left corner to send Iran into the Semifinals. The late heroics also knocked out tournament favorites Japan, but it was nothing but deserved for Team Melli as they finished off an incredible performance.

Team News

After serving a one-game suspension due getting a second yellow card in the Round of 16, Mehdi Taremi is available against Qatar and will most likely start up front alongside Sardar Azmoun. Saman Ghoddos will most likely be dropped back to midfield with Saeid Ezatolahi. I expect the same center-back partnership in Shoja Khalilzadeh and Hossein Kanaani. Despite playing poorly in the group stages, Alireza Jahanbakhsh has bounced back superbly and the right-wing position is his to lose.
The biggest question is who will start at left-wing and left-back. Milad Mohammadi was picked to start to match the pace with Japan’s quick wingers like Takefusa Kubo and Ritsu Doan, which he did brilliantly. However, to bench your captain Ehsan Hajsafi in back-to-back matches would be a risky move, especially since he is better on the ball than Mohammadi. Plus, if the match were to go to penalties, Hajsafi would likely be one of the five takers. 

Since Qatar won’t have as much ball possession as Japan did, I think starting Hajsafi over Mohammadi is the better option. However, I believe Mohebi should keep his place at left-wing. His interplay with Sardar Azmoun was great, and his aerial prowess won every header when Iran began to dominate.

The amount of depth that Amir Ghalenoei will have at his disposal on the bench is a good problem to have for the Team Melli manager, and the question will be who he entrusts to bring on as a substitute to affect the game. Omid Ebrahimi and Rouzbeh Cheshmi will likely come on for defensive purposes to help secure a lead towards the end of the match. On the other hand, if Iran were to go more attacking and needed a goal, players like Karim Ansarifard, Mehdi Torabi and Ali Gholizadeh would be the ones called into action.

Projected Starting Line-up (4-4-2)

Beiranvand; Rezaeian, Kanaani, Khalilzadeh, Hajsafi (C); Jahanbakhsh, Ghoddos, Ezatolahi, Mohebi; Azmoun, Taremi.

The opponent: Qatar

Qatar are the defending Asian Cup champions and they have been playing as such since the opening match of the tournament. Qatar and Iran are the only two teams to have won all five of their matches. The Qataris’ main two players to lead them to this strong campaign are attackers Almoez Ali and Akram Afif. Almoez Ali was the top goalscorer in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup and Akram Afif is currently leading the team with four goals, which is the second-most across all players in the tournament. They play a 5-3-2 formation and conceded no goals in their group stage matches.
In the Round of 16 and quarterfinals though, they gave up more shots and shots on target to opponents Palestine and Uzbekistan, and have looked a little shaky when their competition has shown strength.

Qatar will also have home-field advantage with the majority of spectator support from Qataris. This was huge for them in the quarterfinals when they won on penalties against Uzbekistan, with goalkeeper Meshaal Barsham saving two kicks. Barsham looked like one of the best players on the pitch in the match, bailing out some mistakes from the Qatar backline.
On the other hand, Qatar has a poor record against Iran. They have lost six straight games and in their most recent meeting, an October friendly in Jordan, Team Melli won 4-0.


Iran 2 - 1 Qatar

Each individual who has featured so far in this tournament has played their part in taking Iran to the semifinals. Whether a certain player is starting or not, they will be supporting their teammates from the first whistle to the last. The team’s momentum, morale, and spirit are at an all-time high at the moment.
Even if a player is coming onto the match for just one minute, they will give it their all to make sure Iran makes their first AFC Asian Cup Final since 1976, which was also the last edition that they won the title.

Iran are a much stronger team than Qatar, as the host nation will go into the match as underdogs for the first time and will have to do a lot of defending, something they at times have looked uncomfortable doing. 

Iran plays balls over the top and are very strong in the air, as they showed against Japan.
Team Melli can play through the middle, with Taremi and Ghoddos being the main catalysts from a passing standpoint. It’s very important that Iran’s attackers and wide players press hard to force Qatar to be without the ball.

Mehdi Taremi will be looking to redeem himself from his red card in the Syria match. He will have a fire in his belly that almost feels like a guarantee that he will score. 

This game will be a lot more open than the Japan match, so I’d expect to see more goals. As long as Iran don’t start off the match like they did against Hong Kong, cut out their own mistakes, and if the referees don’t side with Qatar, then Iran will be finalists come Sunday in Doha.

To listen to our podcast previewing the Iran vs. Japan match, visit:

Al Thumama Stadium, Doha