Following an impressive draw against Denmark in the group opener, where Iraq dominated possession and had the greater of the chances throughout the game, it was interesting to see how the Lions of Mesopotamia will fare against much tougher opposition in the form of Neymar’s Brazil. Going into the game, it was widely expected that Iraq would be humbled against a star-studded Brazilian side with the added advantage of playing on home turf, at the Mane Garrincha Stadium, Brasilia. Having also drawn the previous game against South Africa, the Brazilian side were expected to deliver a colossal response to appease the fans and ensure qualification to the next round. However, Abdulghani Shahad and his men had made other plans of their own.
The match kicked off in identical fashion to the last, with Iraq nervous and unorganised, as is to be expected when taking on world footballing giants Brazil. Again, like the Denmark game, the opposition were the first to attack, coming worryingly close through new Manchester City signing Gabriel Jesus. Following the scare, the Iraqis found their feet and took the game to the Brazilians. With 12 minutes on the clock, Dhurgham Ismail launched a long throw in into the box, where Mohanned Abdul-Raheem rose above the goalkeeper and glanced his header across goal but the effort would only ricochet off the woodwork.
Shahad’s men were happy to sit behind the ball and allow their opponents possession, with Iraq attacking from set-pieces and counter-attacks early on. This created space for the Brazilians to have numerous strikes from range, although Mohammed Hameed remained untroubled throughout the first half.
Saad Abdulamir once again shone in midfield as he kept his cool and maintained possession at every given opportunity, a trait rarely ever seen with Iraqi midfielders. The captain roamed the midfield from deep, looking for space and creating an outlet for his compatriots. When on the ball, his technical class saw him dribble through the opposition and create numerous chances, one of which fell to Amjed Atwan, who drove his volley wide from range on the 28th minute. Amjed and Saad’ partnership has proved to be a revelation for the Iraqi Olympic team, with both eager to pass the ball and retain possession whenever possible. This has been in complete contrast to the Iraqi national team, who often resort to long-ball tactics that completely bypass the midfield and forfeit possession easily.
Chances continued for both sides during the first half, with Brazil coming closest on the 32nd minute. A great run down the flank saw a teasing low ball fizz across the box but Marquinhos was unable to convert. A few minutes later, Gabriel Jesus’ initial shot was blocked by Ahmed Ibrahim (36′).
However, the deflection landed kindly and his follow-up attempt curled agonisingly close to the post. Ahmed Ibrahim had a far improved game compared to his previous outing against the Danes. His decision-making was spot-on and his tackles clean. Moreover, his leadership skills guided the young Iraqi defence through a torrid 90 minutes. Mustafa Nadhim, Ahmed’s defensive partner, displayed an equally dominant performance, clearing dozens of crosses with ease and taking very few risks on the ball. Together, the defence was able to withstand an armageddon of Brazilian attacks leading up to the half-time whistle. A final attack saw Renato Augusto thump his shot against the crossbar before the referee blew his whistle to conclude the first 45 minutes. Temporary relief for the Iraqis.
As the second half kicked off, the game continued to become even more heated. Challenges were aplenty and frustrations became clear, with the Brazilians desperately looking for a winner whilst the Iraqis proved too strong to roll-over.
Luan was brought on by Brazil to help find the winner, but nobody was on the end of his dangerous cross that drilled across goal (60′). His strike moments later landing against the chest of Mohammed Hameed, who continues to impressive between the posts (66′). The young goalkeeper saved yet another effort from distance, this time pushing Thiago Maia long range piledriver around the post (78′). The clock approached the 80th minute mark and the game was remarkably still tied. With ten minutes to go, the Brazilians plowed on looking for the winner. Saad Abdulamir had pushed deeper into midfield, with Amjed Atwan making up for the deeper formation by running at the Brazilian defence. Iraq continued to defend for their lives, but with their bodies tiring, their attacks had resorted solely to Ali Adnan’s set-pieces.
The intense affair saw 29 fouls and 8 bookings awarded throughout the game. The Brazilians were becoming increasingly frustrated at their lack of goals and the time-wasting tactics used by their opposition. However, their players were also guilty of numerous reckless tackles. The constant stoppages, not helped by a streaker taking to the field late on, meant an additional 7 minutes were to be played after the initial 90 were up.
Seconds ticked away and Iraqis worldwide held their breath. The Brazilians launched a tirade of offenses but the Iraqi defence proved impenetrable for Neymar and co, who could only resort to long-range efforts. Then, on the 92nd minute, a mistake down the left wing saw Brazil break. Hameed raced out of his box and the ball was floated over to Renato Augusto, whose theatrical effort flew wide of an open goal. It was at that point that Iraqis could breath a sigh of relief – a result now seemed destined. The remaining minutes saw numerous crosses cleared with ease, as Iraq counted down the seconds to full time. Then – finally – after 97 minutes of draining football, the final whistle blew and Iraq had secured a historic point against Brazil in their own backyard. The players and staff celebrated an unbelievable achievement that no Iraqi would have ever imagined witnessing. A chorus of boos filled the stadium as the Brazilian fans took out their frustration on their own national team. However, in fantastic fashion, the Brazilian fans offered the Iraqi players a standing ovation as they left the pitch. A classy touch that warmed the hearts of all Iraqis.
Although every Iraqi player played a pivotal role in producing such an outstanding team display of resilience and class, it was newcomer Alaa Ali Mhawi who stole the show. The youngster remained entirely unfazed at the challenge of man-marking the globe’s finest for the duration of the game. Whenever Neymar, or anybody else for that matter, tried to beat Alaa, he stood his ground and read the game superbly. The 20 year old has well and truly made that right-back slot his own, a relief given that this position has plagued the national team for years. Alaa’s technical ability and agility saw him run at opposition too, getting him into dangerous positions and drawing numerous fouls from the opposition. His courageous performance sees him voted IraqFootball.me’s Man of The Match award.
A fantastic team effort and a superb achievement by a nation who went into the tournament as 1/100 winners, the least favourable out of all 16 nations – a true David vs. Goliath showdown. An incredible victory, that the Iraqi players dedicate to their fans back home and to the thousands of martyrs who never lived to see this historic day – the victims of the Iskandariya blast, the Real Madrid fans killed watching football at their cafe, the recent Karrada bombings, and the list sadly goes on. The Iraqi football team – made up of Shia, Sunnis, Kurds, and more – has once again defied all odds and shown the world what we can achieve in spite of all obstacles that Iraq faces. We will now take on South Africa, where a win will ensure our qualification into the next round. Yallah Ya Iraq!!
- Mohammed Hameed
- Alaa Ali Mhawi
- Ahmed Ibrahim
- Mustapha Nadhim
- Dhurgham Ismail
- Saad Abdulamir (79′ sub – Ali Faez)
- Amjad Atwan
- Saad Natiq
- Ali Adnan
- Sherko Kareem (63′ sub – Hummam Tariq)
- Mohanned Abdul-Raheem (84′ sub – Hammadi Ahmed)
- Fahad Talib
- Hawbr Mustafa
- Mehdi Kamil
- Ali Hosni