The win against a Japanese team, which has dominated Iran for many years including that bitter defeat in Ali Ain in the semi-finals of the AFC Asian Cup 2019, was a big relief in all senses.
In the best performances of Team Melli in Asian Cup so far, Mohebbi and Jahanbaksh scored, but the credit goes to every single player in the team. Those players stood up to their biggest challenge and came out as winners.
Credit has to go to Aradeshir ‘Amir’ Ghalenoei, the head coach who had to arrange a makeshift team due to the suspension of Taremi, injury to Majid Hosseini and Sadegh Moharrami. In a masterstroke, Ghalenoei played Milad Mohammadi instead of the Captain and much more experienced Ehsan Hajsafi, He supplemented the defensive midfield role by playing Omid Ebrahimi to support Ezatollahi and finally, he used the stronger Mohebbi instead of Ghayedi on the flanks.
It was indeed a gamble that worked very well. The return of Kananizadegan stabilized the central defense. Ramin and Milad Mohammadi on the wings were a source of headaches for the Japanese.
Sardar Azmoun was majestic. Top-notch performance, powerful in attack, visionary, individual skills, and provider of the gem of pass to assist Mohebbi’s goal. Azmoun played one of his best matches for a long time. He should have been awarded that wonderful goal, except for VAR which declared him offside by a millimeter.
Beiranvand was never really tested because of the solid defense protecting him, and the goal he conceded was a touch of fortune for the Japanese. Mohebbi exceeded expectations. His constant runs, hustle, and physicality were marvelous. His finishing from the Azmoun pass was a touch of class.
Even Ezatollahi upgraded his performance in this match.
And what about the warrior Omid Ebrahimi? He was all over the pitch, tackling, shooting, and hustling as if he was 20 years old. Perhaps one of his best games in the long career with Team Melli.
It is difficult to pick up the MVP of this match, but Saman Ghoddos and Sardar Azmoun are the closest to the title. Ghoddos was inspirational. His Vision, tact, skills, and determination were the qualities that a player needed to challenge the top team in Asia. He was never intimidated by the quick and pacey Japanese. Hardly put a foot wrong.
And Finally to Alireza Jahanbaksh. The Captain and the man who was assigned the heavy responsibility to take the penalty kick in the last moments of the game. The psychological pressure was immense not just in front of the capacity crowd but with 88 million Iranians watching.
He took the penalty in a style appropriate for the Captain of the team.
Now, comes the more difficult task, not necessarily technical or tactical but emotional and psychological. The players need to be back on the ground treat the next opponent with respect and play the best football that they have proved they are capable of.