Iran coach Carlos Queiroz said the “innocent mistake” that led to the opening goal, when players surrounded the referee as Japan played on and scored, “destroyed (them) emotionally”. Photo: Suhaib Salem/Reuters

AL AIN, United Arab Emirates – Carlos Queiroz stood down after nearly eight years as Iran coach on Monday following his team’s 3-0 loss to Japan in the semi-finals of the Asian Cup.

The former Real Madrid coach had been hoping to deliver Iran’s first continental title since 1976 in the United Arab Emirates, but Japan scored three second-half goals to send them crashing out of the tournament.

“I think the simplest thing to do is to copy the old song, ‘And now, the end is here’,” the 65-year-old Portuguese said, misquoting the song Frank Sinatra made famous.

“I’m happy and proud to say, I did it my way.”

Yuya Osako put Japan 1-0 up after halftime when the Iranian defence fatally stopped to remonstrate with the referee, and then stroked home the penalty awarded after a replay for Morteza Pouraliganji’s accidental hand ball.

Genki Haraguchi then scored in stoppage time to complete a rout which had been wholly unexpected against a free-scoring Iran side, which had banged in 12 unanswered goals en route to the semis.

It was the last hurrah for Iran’s long-serving coach Queiroz, who is leaving the team after nearly eight years at the helm, a reign that has included two World Cups.

Queiroz said the “innocent mistake” that led to the opening goal, when players surrounded the referee as Japan played on and scored, “destroyed (them) emotionally”.

“My players stopped and everyone was expecting the referee to take action for that incident,” he said, referring to a challenge on Takumi Minamino on the edge of the box.

“That moment created an emotional breakdown for my team, and after that, there was only one team on the pitch.”

Eleven minutes later, Minamino’s cross hit Pouraliganji’s arm as he slid in, but Australian referee Chris Beath blew for the penalty and stood by his decision after watching a replay.

Osako stroked home the spot-kick to give Japan a 2-0 lead with 23 minutes to play, and there was no coming back for Iran, whose 43-year wait for a fourth Asian title goes on.

“My players had good preparation and showed great fighting spirit. They played as underdogs,” said Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu, whose team will play Qatar or hosts the United Arab Emirates in Friday’s final.

“I’m happy they showed that spirit and fight, and delivered a win for the fans back home.”

Reuters, AFP