Late, late drama at the Asian Cup saw favourites Japan knocked out by Iran deep into stoppage time, meaning Wataru Endo will now travel back to Liverpool.
Heading into the tournament in Qatar, Japan were widely viewed as favourites to win the Asian Cup outright.
After finishing second behind Iraq in Group D, Hajime Moriyasu’s side overcame Bahrain in the last 16 to set up a quarter-final against Iran.
But after taking the lead in the tie on Saturday through midfielder Hidemasa Morita, Japan went on to suffer a second-half collapse and exit early.
Iran equalised soon after the break through Mohammad Mohebi, going on to dominate play with 17 shots to Japan’s eight, and four on target to two.
The quarter-final looked to be trailing to extra time when Liverpool centre-back target Ko Itakura fouled Hossein Kanaani in the box and, after a long VAR review, Iran were awarded a penalty.
Ex-Brighton attacking midfielder Alireza Jahanbakhsh put the spot-kick away in the sixth minute of stoppage time, knocking Japan out.
Iran go on to play either hosts Qatar or Uzbekistan in the semi-finals on February 7, while Japan will instead head home.
There will be obvious disappointment for the 30-year-old, who played every minute of all five games as captain for Japan, but it can be seen as a positive for those on Merseyside.
In Endo’s absence, though, the fit-again Alexis Mac Allister has reclaimed his starting spot as No. 6 and produced an excellent run of form.