Iran’s protest that Iraq fielded an ineligible player in their stormy Asian Cup quarter-final was shot down following lengthy deliberation by tournament organisers on Sunday.

Iran lodged a formal complaint, claiming that midfielder Alaa Abdulzehra failed a drugs test while playing for an Iranian club last year, but it was rejected by the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) disciplinary committee.

“It’s rejected, they said this player can carry on and play,” Iranian delegation head Houshang Moghaddas told AFP. “Iraq tomorrow can play … tomorrow morning we fly (home),” he added.

An AFC statement released later said that the protest was “unfounded”, without giving further details.

The decision follows several hours of closed-door talks in Sydney with Iraqi and Iranian delegates both giving evidence to the AFC’s disciplinary committee.

It means 2007 champions Iraq, who won Friday’s combustible match on penalties, are free to contest their semi-final against South Korea on Monday.

Iraqi coach Radhi Shenaishil insisted the 11th-hour protest had not distracted his team as they made final preparations for the last-four clash in Sydney.

“The objection has been officially closed and the subject is closed from our side,” he told reporters at Stadium Australia. “We have nothing to add. The (protest) from the Iran team is something they created and hasn’t affected us at all for tomorrow’s match.”

The AFC’s decision also avoids the messy scenario of throwing out Iraq and reinstating Iran, which would probably also have meant rescheduling the semi-final.

Iran’s protest centred on their claim that Abdulzehra, now playing for Iraq’s Al Shorta, failed a drugs test while at Iranian club side Tractor Sazi last year. 

According to documents seen by AFP, the 27-year-old tested positive for banned stimulant methylhexaneamine, in results that were verified by a WADA-approved laboratory in Cologne.

In an email exchange dated last September, world football body FIFA promised to take action but there is no record of a suspension for Abdulzehra.

Iranian officials raised the matter again with FIFA on January 21, the day after Iraq qualified for a quarter-final with their fierce rivals by finishing second in Group D.

Moghaddas said he was bitterly disappointed by the result of the Iran’s appeal, which confirms the departure of the three-time champions.

“The AFC are supporting players who are doping, who are using drugs and playing,” he said. “I don’t accept this kind of decision. I refuse.”

A spokesman for the Iraqi team was dismissive of the Iranian appeal, which prompted them to change their flights to await the verdict.

“Let them stay here as much as they want,” the Iraqi official told AFP.

Iraq won Friday’s spicy encounter against their neighbours and bitter rivals 7-6 on penalties after Iran were reduced to 10 men and extra time finished with the scores at 3-3.

Recriminations started immediately after the match when Iran coach Carlos Queiroz complained bitterly about the referee’s decision to send off one of his players for simulation. 

In the meantime, Moghaddas added that Iran would lodge a formal complaint against Williams following the dismissal of their protest that had Iraq fielded an ineligible player.

“We will complain 100 percent, yes. With documents, with DVDs. This referee must be suspended for life,” Moghaddas told AFP in Sydney.

“Our team was going to be the champions here. We worked on this team for four years. We brought a very good and ready team. They spoiled it. The referee spoiled it.”

Iran were furious with Williams after he questionably yellow-carded defender Mehdrad Pooladi for simulation in the first half of their rollercoaster quarter-final with Iraq.

Williams started to run off before being reminded he had already cautioned Pooladi, and returned to brandish a red card — an incident which enraged Iran coach Carlos Queiroz.

Iran, Asia’s top-ranked side, were leading 1-0 at the time but the game finished 3-3 after extra time before Iraq won a penalty shootout 7-6 in Canberra.

Queiroz had already been hit with a $3,000 fine for criticising Williams following their Group C win over Bahrain, and he struggled to control himself after Friday’s game.

“Can he sleep tonight?” fumed the former Real Madrid and Portugal boss.

Iran will make the delayed trip home on Monday after they failed with a formal protest claiming that Iraq’s Alaa Abdulzehra should have been ineligible because he tested positive for drugs last year. – Agence France-Presse

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