ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 143

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Iran ‘surprised’ by choice of Arab referee in Asia soccer semifinal against Qatar

Ahead of Asian Cup game, Iranian midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi questions appointment of Kuwaiti referee, also complains about lack of recovery time in knockout stage

Iran's midfielder #06 Saeid Ezatolahi applauds the fans at the end of the Qatar 2023 AFC Asian Cup football match between Iran and Syria at the Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium in Doha on January 31, 2024. (Photo by KARIM JAAFAR / AFP)
Iran's midfielder #06 Saeid Ezatolahi applauds the fans at the end of the Qatar 2023 AFC Asian Cup football match between Iran and Syria at the Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium in Doha on January 31, 2024. (Photo by KARIM JAAFAR / AFP)

DOHA (Reuters) – Iran’s Saeid Ezatolahi raised doubts about the AFC appointing an Arab referee for their Asian Cup semifinal clash against host and defending champions Qatar while also complaining about the lack of recovery time in the knockout stage.

Wednesday’s semifinal 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, with its primarily Persian and Shiite Muslim population, has had longstanding tensions and conflicts with the Arab world, which is predominantly Sunni Muslim.

Iran reached the semifinals after beating Asia’s top-ranked side Japan 2-1 despite having only two days to recover after its 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 his team faced Japan, and also took a shot at the Video Assistant Referees.

Syria’s forward #11 Pablo Sabbag and Iran’s midfielder #06 Saeid Ezatolahi jump to head the ball during the Qatar 2023 AFC Asian Cup football match between Iran and Syria at the Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium in Doha on January 31, 2024. (Photo by KARIM JAAFAR / AFP)

“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 members 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 semifinals 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 its quarterfinal against Uzbekistan went to extra time and penalties but team morale remains high.

“Everyone is excited, against Iran it will be 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.”

Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report

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