Reuters – DOHA, Iran’s Saeid Ezatolahi raised doubts about the AFC appointing an Arab referee for their Asian Cup semi-final clash against hosts and defending champions Qatar while he also complained about the lack of recovery time in the knockout stage.
Wednesday’s semi-final will be officiated by Kuwait’s Ahmad Al-Ali who has taken charge of two group games and a last-16 tie at the tournament.
“What is a little bit surprising for us is that the referee for tomorrow’s match is from Kuwait, he’s an Arab,” Ezatolahi told reporters on Tuesday.
“We’re just wondering how it’s possible that they put an Arab as a referee for tomorrow’s match.
“But we are the Iran national team, we are a very big team. We have a very good players, we are professional.”
Reuters has contacted the AFC for comment.
Iran reached the semi-finals after they beat Asia’s top-ranked side Japan 2-1 despite having only two days to recover after their last-16 tie against Syria went to extra time and penalties.
“In this tournament the players didn’t have enough time to recover, specifically in the knockout stage,” he added.
“Many of the players came straight from the their clubs and are under a lot of pressure here.”
Iran coach Amir Ghalenoei reiterated the rest period being “less than 72 hours” before they faced Japan while he also took a shot at the Video Assistant Referees.
“In this tournament at least, I can say that VAR was not very kind to us. We had a situation in the match against Japan that could have been a penalty on Sardar Azmoun but VAR did not check it for us,” he said.
“But we have to be stronger than everything that is happening at this tournament.”
NEARLY 50 YEARS
Iran beat Qatar 4-0 in October but Ghalenoei urged his team to forget about previous results as they seek a place in their first final since they won their third title in 1976.
“When Qatar reached the semi-finals they showed their quality, so we need to forget our result against Qatar and forget our performance against Japan. That belongs to history now,” he said.
“We need to show more quality and we have to cover more distance compared to the match against Japan. I hope we can reach the final after nearly 50 years. I have big belief in our players.”
Qatar coach Marquez Lopez refused to comment on the referee’s appointment but he also spoke about the lack of time for recovery.
“If we speak about preparation for tomorrow’s game it was a very short time, we had only two days to prepare,” he said.
“Tomorrow’s game will be the toughest match of the tournament for us.”
Qatar’s Tarek Salman said there is fatigue in the squad after their quarter-final against Uzbekistan went to extra time and penalties but team morale remains high.
“Everyone is excited, against Iran it will be a physical,” he said. “They have stars who play in big leagues in Europe so we’re motivated 200%. We hope to bring joy to our fans.”
Reporting by Rohith Nair in Doha; Editing by Christian Radnedge