Iran’s coach Queiroz felt that the goal by Minamino after a challenge sent his team into an emotional meltdown from which Team Melli never recovered. Image Credit: Reuters

Al Ain: Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz plans to step down as Iran’s football coach with a song on his lips and pride in all that his side has achieved during his nearly eight-year tenure.

Pre-tournament favourites Iran were knocked out by a vastly-improved Japan 3-0 in Monday’s first semi-final of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup and the 65-year-old Queiroz was lost for words as he wished a bright future for Iranian football.

“The most important thing for me today is to say I am so proud and this venture, this journey, of the Iranian players has been fantastic. They deserve to be in the final to be honest, but I think the simple thing is to say, copying the famous song ‘And now the end is here,’” Queiroz said, referring to the 1969 Frank Sinatra hit ‘I did it my way’.

“I’m very happy and very proud because I did it my way and now it’s time to show my gratitude to the Iranian fans after having coached these players and this team for nearly eight years. I wish all of them the best of success that they deserve,” he added.

Winners of the Asian crown for the third time way back in 1976, this was Iran’s first appearance in the AFC Asian Cup semi-finals since 2004. Team Melli were competitive in the first 45 minutes and then well into the second half, but the game took a turn in the 56th minute when the Team Melli defence temporarily switched off following a clash between Mortez Pouraliganji and an advancing Takumi Minamino who went sprawling to the ground.

While the Iranians remonstrated as Australian referee Christopher Beath didn’t blow for a foul, Minamino picked himself up, ran to the far corner and sent in a cross which Yuya Osako nodded in to open the scoring.

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

“But just to say that the best team won. The best team deserves to be in the final, and congratulations to Japan,” he complimented.

Since their last Asian Cup success in 1976, Iran have fallen short of a fourth crown on four occasions while finishing third in 1980, 1988, 1996 and 2004. Queiroz is the longest-serving coach in the history of the Iran national team, being at the helm for nearly eight years from 2011 during which he has led the side country to back-to-back appearances at the Fifa World Cups in 2014 and 2018.

“These players have built a credibility. They have drawn a lot of attention from across the world as they have performed at the right time and on the right stage. They have won respect all over the world. I know that for my players this has been an opportunity where we know that clubs and people show appreciation towards them. Many people identify with these players as they show this freedom. The fans love them and that’s why Iranian football has come a long way. I can only express my thanks and gratitude to our fans and my staff from my heart and soul,” he added.

“But special congratulations and a huge, huge thank you to my players for everything they gave playing all these years, taking into consideration the difficulties, the adversity, the limits and the conditions they have. They are going to be in my heart for the rest of my life. I did it my way and that’s why I am happy.”