Saeid Ezatolahi of Iran has expressed reservations regarding the AFC’s decision to assign an Arab referee, Kuwait’s Ahmad Al-Ali, for their Asian Cup semi-final against host and defending champions Qatar. Additionally, he voiced concerns about insufficient recovery time during the knockout stage. Ahmad Al-Ali, who has overseen two group games and a last-16 tie, is set to officiate the semifinal on Wednesday.
Qatar beat Iran on penalties after the match ended 1-1 through extra time and went to a shootout at Education City Stadium on Saturday. It is the first time Iran has reached the semifinals since 1976 and comes just a week after beating pre-tournament favorites Japan 2-1 to move to the last eight.
Japan, meanwhile, secured a 3-1 victory over Bahrain to reach the semifinals and maintain its pursuit for a record-extending fifth title in Asia’s biggest football event. Goals from Ritsu Doan, Takefusa Kubo and Ayase Ueda gave the Japanese side a place in the last eight, which will see them face either Korea or Iran.
AFC chief Gianni Infantino held talks in Kuwait on Sunday with the country’s ruler, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al-Sabah, and soccer officials as he pushed to enlarge the 2022 World Cup from 32 to 48 teams. Infantino flew to Doha on Monday to meet with Qatari leaders.
The AFC is expected to announce an expanded competition at its congress in Kuala Lumpur later this month, with the first round of matches set to be played next year. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have already signed up to host the new tournament. Four other nations will join them in a revamped competition expected to boost revenues for all involved.
South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Japan all won the opening group games to remain unbeaten and advance to the knockout phase. The quarterfinals will be held from Jan. 10 to Feb. 1.
The tournament will feature players from Europe’s top clubs, including Tottenham’s Son Heung-min in South Korea, Arsenal midfielder Wataru Endo in Japan, and Monaco’s Kaoru Mitomo and Takumi Minamino. Other stars include Bayern Munich defender Kim Minjae, Wolverhampton Wanderers forward Hwang Hee-chan, and Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Lee Kang-in. The tournament will be broadcast on around 80 TV channels covering the globe.