Veteran forward Ismail Matar has warned his UAE team-mates to make the most of this rare opportunity and lift the Asian Cup on home soil.
The Whites secured a place in Tuesday’s semi-final against Qatar when they shocked holders Australia with a committed 1-0 triumph.
This result put them on course to replicate 1996’s run on the other occasion they played hosts. That ended with painful penalty-shootout defeat to Saudi Arabia in the final.
“For us, we’re looking to bring something we don’t have before, for our country,” said Al Wahda icon Matar, who is his nation’s second-most-capped player on 130 and fourth-highest scorer on 36.
“We want our fans, our highness to be proud of us.
“Some players play all their career and they don’t have one tournament to play at home. And sometimes you are a lucky person and you have this chance.
“Maybe after only 30 or 40 years it will come again, so maybe my son won’t have the chance to play this tournament, I don’t know.”
The Socceroos failed to turn dominance in possession and attempts on goal into an advantage at an electric Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on Friday.
This shock result eased the pressure on coach Alberto Zaccheroni, who’d seen his charges stutter through the group stage and go to extra time in the round of 16 against tournament-debutants Kyrgyzstan.
Matar admitted the quarter-final result acted as a “big relief” for the squad.
“It is really a big relief for us,” the 35-year-old said.
“Especially, we had the opportunity last tournament with a better squad, and a better performance [they finished third under Mahdi Ali in 2015]. Also Australia, they have a good team and they were the defending champions.so for us there was pressure, but at the same time we wanted to prove something – and we did.”
The UAE will meet the winners of Monday’s Iran v Japan tie.
Host nation UAE reached the semi-finals of the Asian Cup on Friday after putting out the defending champions, Australia, 1-0.
Alberto Zaccheroni’s side remain on course to equal – or even surpass – the deeds of the celebrated 1996 team, which finished runners-up when the Asian Cup was last played in the Emirates.
As thoughts turned to Tuesday and a showdown with Qatar at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, ‘The Whites’ trained in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.
Qatar made it to the last four at the Asian Cup for the first time after knocking out two-time champions South Korea 1-0 on Friday.
A genuine heavyweight contest awaits on Monday when three-time champions Iran meet record four-time winners Japan in the opening semi-final of Asian Cup 2019.
The former roared into the last four when they produced the tournament’s defining performance to date, a 3-0 humbling of China. In contrast, Samurai Blue required the help of the video-assistant referee to defeat emerging Vietnam 1-0 thanks to a Ritsu Doan penalty-kick.
Here are the talking points ahead of an engaging tie – billed as the competition’s true decider, with Qatar v UAE on the other side of the draw – at Al Ain’s magnificent Hazza bin Zayed Stadium:
WEIGHT OF HISTORY
Iran’s pained relationship with the Asian Cup is exemplified by the fact Japan have claimed a leading quartet of triumphs in the time since their last success – and with 16 years to spare.
Team Melli were victorious in every match they played from 1968-76.
Continental greats in 109-goal Ali Daei, magician Ali Karimi and the indefatigable Jalal Hosseini are among those to have been produced since. All have, perplexingly, failed to even make another Asian showpiece.
This gap is also keenly felt by head coach Carlos Queiroz. The Portuguese made history by securing successive entries to World Cups, but 2015’s epic quarter-final continental loss to Iraq is a black mark on his otherwise unprecedented eight-year reign.
Japan have not gone more than one running without overall victory since 1992.
A new generation has been groomed for success in the Emirates, led by winger Doan and centre-back Takehiro Tomiyasu.
The likes of Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda and Makoto Hasebe either have retired or been snubbed, but aspirations of success remain.
Joy in the Emirates is billed as the perfect springboard to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and World Cup 2022.
A cursory review of the nations’ records in the UAE points towards a tense contest at the Hazza.
Iran have become only one of three teams in the competition’s 63-year history to go through their first five matches without conceding. Japan – also unbeaten – have gone one step further and are now the only side to win five-successive games by a single-goal winning margin.
A noticeable difference between the World Cup regulars, however, emerged in the previous round.
Iran showed they possess another gear against China, notching 18 attempts on goal as the likes of Mehdi Taremi – banned for this clash – and four-goal Sardar Azmoun ran rampant.
They played at a tempo that staid Japan have not been able to exhibit.
Japan boss Hajime Moriyasu has operated a revolving-door policy up top.
Established Werder Bremen forward Yuya Osaka has nursed injury since scoring twice in the 3-2 opening win against Turkmenistan, Red Bull Salzburg’s Takumi Minamino’s finishing was comically bad in the 2-0 win against Oman and Yoshinori Muto scored against Uzbekistan and then got suspended.
Consistency, however, has been key for Iran. Azmoun’s combination of elite hold-up play and ruthless finishing makes him irreplaceable.
The decision to convince the 24-year-old to renege on his retirement after a disappointing World Cup could make the difference for them against Japan – and the tournament at large.