Asian Cup: Iraq Profile
We profile Australia's next Asian Cup opponent Iraq.
Asian Region: West Asia AFC Member Since: 1971 FIFA Member Since: 1950 Asian Cup finalists: 1972, 1976 (4th place), 1996, 2000, 2004 Coach: Jorvan Vieira (Portugal) World Ranking (June): 84
The fact that Iraq is playing at these Asian Championship is an achievement in itself, given the circumstances its country is facing with the war. Forced to play all its games in Jordan, the team qualified in top spot of its group, which also featured beaten 2004 finalist China.
The qualifying campaign did not exactly start well for Iraq, losing to Singapore in its opening game. However from there they went through unbeaten and top of the group courtesy of a better head-to-head record against China, with whom they finished on equal points.
The Asia Cup has been a mixed a bag for Iraq. After gaining admittance to the region in 1971, Iraq qualified in for their first finals in 1972, but failed to get past the first round. Since then they have qualified for just four more editions. In 1976 they managed their highest placed finish - fourth - but did not make the finals again till 1996. In the past three tournaments, they have made the quarter-finals on each occasion, which shows they are thereabouts among the top teams in Asia.
Many of Iraq-s players are remnants of the countries amazing run at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, where they beat Australia 1-0 in the quarter-finals. The two countries have also met as recently as 2005, when Australia came from behind to beat Iraq 2-1 in Sydney.
The biggest dangers to Australia are their attack, with Younis Mahmoud or the ‘Desert Fox- as he is know, one of the best strikers in Asia. He, along with midfielder Nashat Akram, are on the verge of potential moves to top European clubs and will no doubt be looking to use this tournament to further their credentials. Against Thailand in the opening game, they were standouts in the first half as Iraq dominated. Mohammed Nasser missed the match against Thailand, but is almost certain to be part of the starting eleven for Australia-s clash and is a key midfielder for them.
Iraq-s opening match against Thailand was a case of the one that got away. Completely dominated the first half, took a deserved lead and should have added to it by half time. However when tested by the Thais in the second half, they fell into a hole and Thailand grabbed a deserved equaliser. Lead up form was good, without being spectacular, although new coach Jorvan Vieira has only had a month to prepare the team since taking over.
Matches v Thailand - drew 1-1 v Australia - Friday 13 July, 8.20pm (AEST) - Live FoxSports 2 from 7.30pm v Oman - Monday 16 July, 10.35pm (AEST) - Delay FoxSports 2 (17 July) from 2.30am