The United Arab Emirates shocked holders Japan and Iraq sent their arch-rivals Iran crashing out as a stunning night of upsets turned the Asian Cup on its head on Friday.
A double-header of quarter-finals ended in two penalty shoot-outs in Canberra and Sydney, with UAE and Iraq surviving moments of intense drama to come out on top.
Their stars shone with UAE wizard Omar Abdulrahman and Iraq’s Younis Mahmoud, hero of their 2007 title run, both slotting outrageous “panenka” penalties in the shoot-outs.
But Japan’s leading lights Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa had a night to forget, and 10-man Iran were left cursing Australian referee Ben Williams.
UAE’s 5-4 win on penalties, after it finished 1-1 after extra-time, puts Mahdi Ali’s men into a semi-final against hosts Australia in Newcastle.
Iraq will play South Korea as they bid to repeat their astonishing 2007 win and bring joy to their homeland, where thousands of fans blasted celebratory gunfire on Friday.
Iraq outlasted Iran 7-6 on penalties after a match of scarcely believable drama ended 1-1 on 90 minutes and 3-3 after the extra periods.
Iran’s coach Carlos Queiroz was incensed at Mehrdad Pooladi’s first-half sending-off when he received a second yellow card from referee Williams for simulation.
“Can he (Williams) sleep tonight? It’s just a question,” said Queiroz, who had to be restrained by his players after the dismissal.
“If it’s necessary I put my knees to the ground to show my respect and humble attitude to ask him how we understand this decision, you tell me.”
– ‘Panenka’ double –
There was no sign of the fireworks to come when talented young striker Sardar Azmoun nodded Iran in front on 24 minutes.
But sparks flew when Pooladi was cautioned for simulation, and then sent off when Williams realised it was his second yellow.
A furious Queiroz, fined $3,000 for criticising Williams after Iran’s win against Bahrain, had to be held back as the teams and officials came off at half-time.
And the dismissal turned out to be critical as Iraq levelled through Ahmed Yaseen to force extra-time, and then went ahead via the head of captain Mahmoud.
Iran levelled through Morteza Pouraliganji — but the defender then conceded a penalty by clattering into Yaser Kasim, which Dhurgham Ismael dispatched.
Iraq seemed to have it won, but Iranian substitute Reza Ghoochannejhad dramatically headed in at the death of extra-time to force penalties.
Both sides missed their first kicks but then scored six each, including Mahmoud’s brilliant “panenka”, before Iran’s Vahid Amiry hit the post and Salam Shakir smashed the winner.
The later kick-off in Sydney got off to a sombre start with the UAE wearing black armbands to make the death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, and Ali Mabkhout refused to celebrate when he opened the scoring in the seventh minute.
Mabkhout walked away with his arms by his sides when he blasted home a fierce volley to give his side a shock lead against the four-time champions.
Japan, looking leggy in their fourth game with an unchanged starting line-up, pressed without reward until the 81st minute, when substitute Gaku Shibasaki rifled in the equaliser.
The Blue Samurai almost snatched the winner when Shibasaki’s free kick flashed wide, but the UAE hung on to force the sudden death shoot-out.
And while Abdulrahman chipped the second “panenka” of the night, Japanese stars Honda and Kagawa both missed before Ismail Ahmed thumped the crucial kick home.
“I am very proud of my team’s performance,” said Japan’s coach Javier Aguirre, who is battling a match-fixing claim from his time working in Spain.
“We gave everything we had over 120 minutes. When the game goes to penalties, it is a 50 percent chance of winning.”