Australia's Asian Cup Opponents: Iraq
Australia faced Iraq in the last Asian Cup tournament, where they lost 3-1. Can they get revenge?
The reigning Asian Cup champions' sporting success has obviously taken a back seat in recent years, with the war having a heavy impact on everyday life. One thing to have risen from the ashes though, is a reasonable and improving football team and interest in the game seems to have risen in recent years as Iraq gets back on its feet.
Iraq has greater things on its plate but the welcome distraction that sport brings seems to have galvanized support for football in Iraq at the moment and interest is at an all time high, especially as the national team has a solid setup and a decent squad.
Several recent suspensions from FIFA have been a slight setback but the world-s governing body feels that meddling by the Government in Iraqi sport is unfair and disbanding of the country-s sporting federations led to further problems with its football association.
The last suspension was lifted in only March 2010 so ever since then Iraq has been seen again on the international stage. Another problem has been the inability to play home games, many sides understandably don-t want to go and play in a war torn country so many of Iraq-s “home” matches have been played in neighbouring Jordan, Syria, Qatar and UAE.
Recently, the sport has been given a huge boost as Baghdad is now deemed safe enough to once again host matches. Over 50,000 turned up to watch a match against Palestine so the support and passion is obviously there.
They have qualified for a World Cup once in their history, when they performed well in Mexico in 1986. Tough games against Belgium, Paraguay and the hosts saw them lose by just one goal on each occasion so they gave a good account of themselves in all three.
As far as the Asian Cup goes, the fact that they're reigning champions speaks volumes after they beat Saudi Arabia 1-0 in the previous final. They were also in the same group as Australia and actually beat us 3-1 when a Mark Viduka goal wasn-t enough to stop the eventual champions taking the points and topping the group.
Other Asian Cup ventures have seen them reach the quarter finals on three occasions as well as the semis once. This solid history coupled with the current quality of squad means that the Iraqis will be no easy beats and Australia will have to be wary of a well organised, solid unit.
Most of the squad is made up of home based players, or players who play in nearby country-s leagues. They do have veteran defender Bassim Abbas who plays in Turkey and he-ll be sure to keep Australia-s strikers at bay as he-s played over 70 matches in the Iraqi colours.
Their qualification for the semis was no mean feat either, as they defeated DPR Korea to snatch the second spot in group D. Two wins and a narrow defeat against a highly thought of Iranian side meant that Iraq are not a side to be underestimated in the quarter final tie.
Ranked 98 in FIFA-s latest rankings, they-re a long way below Australia of course but their inability to play home games has definitely put them way below their potential position in the rankings. This said, Australia should be looking for a convincing win over Iraq and booking themselves a semi final berth should be odds on if they perform to anywhere near their best.
Make sure you watch the Qantas Socceroos take on Iraq at 1225 AEDT on the 23rd January as they bid to book themselves a place in the semi finals.