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Asian Cup: Japan, Iran advance to semifinals

Vietnam v Japan - AFC Asian Cup Quarter Final

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 24: Ritsu Doan of Japan scores his sides first goal from the penalty spot during the AFC Asian Cup quarter final match between Vietnam and Japan at Al Maktoum Stadium on January 24, 2019 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

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For the first time since winning the tournament in 2011, Japan has returned to the semifinals of the AFC Asian Cup.

Japan recorded a 1-0 win over Vietnam in the quarterfinal round, thanks to a VAR-determined penalty kick goal in the second half by starlet Ritsu Doan. It was Japan’s fifth straight win in the competition, all by a one-goal margin. Japan now advances to face Iran, who recorded a 3-0 win over China in the second match of the day.

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Captained by Maya Yoshida, Japan’s defense has continued to improve throughout the tournament, shutting out both Saudi Arabia and the technically gifted Vietnam in the last two rounds.

It was an even bigger milestone for Iran. For the first time in 15 years, Team Melli is heading to the semifinal round. Iran took advantage of a mistake by China defender Feng Xiaoting when Sardar Azmoun picked his pocket as the last defender, squaring it to Mehdi Taremi for the opening goal in the 18th minute. Iran doubled the lead in the 31st minute through another defensive error from China on a long ball, as Azmoun rounded the goalkeeper to score. Yet again, another defensive miscue led to Iran’s third goal, with Karim Ansarifard providing the finishing touch.

China striker Yu Dabao and We Lei were each held scoreless, despite scoring two goals each so far in the tournament.