Following Iraq’s exit from the Olympics Men’s football, we look back at the many talking points of the tournament. Elimination from the tournament may feel like a crushing blow as of now – especially given that our wounds are still sore and blistered. Therefore, following extensive reflection, we have settled for 7 worthy points to discuss in the hope that we can at least appreciate some of the positives that can be taken away from the past three games. Hindsight is a wonderful thing indeed.
Iraq Are Actually Quite Good
Given that we were 1/100 to win the tournament, the lowest out of all 16 teams who had qualified, Iraq certainly silenced a lot of doubters. The Lions of Mesopotamia played three games and remained unbeaten throughout, even taking the game to Brazil in their own backyard. The team played some fantastic football at times and were desperately unlucky not to qualify to the next round. The players turned a lot of heads and have certainly impressed many bystanders – we can only hope there were also some scouts watching the talent on display too, given that a lot of these players would benefit tremendously from playing in Europe – following the likes of Ali Adnan, Ali Hosni, and others.
The Midfield Impressed The Most
Iraq’s midfield has often had fantastic footballers who have struggled remarkably to influence football matches and cope with maintaining possession for longer than all of three seconds. The midfield was completely contrasted to this during the Olympics. The players performed remarkably well and outshone all three opposing sides in the middle of the park. They passed the ball crisply and kept possession in tight spaces. Moreover, the youngsters were not afraid to take on players and were often available to receive the pass.
The Iraqi captain stole the show during the tournament, ensuring his inclusion ahead of Yasir Kasim was entirely justified. The Saudi-based player led his younger compatriots by example and dominated the centre of the park. His presence was felt both physically and vocally – getting stuck into tackles and ordering his teammates into position. Iraq conceded only one goal during three games, a lot of which is down to Saad holding down the midfield area and ensuring no balls were played through. As is often the case with Iraq, one pass will split the entire team down the middle and result in the Iraqi side being completely stretched. This was never the case during the tournament thanks to a brilliant display from Saad. Additionally, the 24 year old was regularly showing himself for the ball in order to ease pressure off his less experiences teammates, whilst guiding them through the match. His display against Brazil in particular was incredible, with him dribbling through their midfield regularly as if they were training cones.
It was completely fitting that it was Saad who grabbed our only goal of the tournament. A magnificent performances from an extremely talented footballer. We can only hope this form carries into the World Cup Qualification campaign starting soon.
Only 18 players were available to Abdulghani Shahed, meaning a lack of rotation will have had to have been addressed prior to the tournament. Spanish fitness coach Gonzalo Rodriguez, a fans’ favourite and now adopted Iraqi, displayed his magnificent skills at conditioning the players throughout the tournament. The players covered unreal distances during the games and barely looked tired at any point. A lot of this is down to the attention the fitness coach pays to each individual player and their specific needs, as discussed with Osama Rashid. It’s a crying shame that the Spaniard will be leaving us and no doubt it will be a decision that Iraqis will live to regret – we all know who is to blame behind this decision unfortunately. Still, we must take this opportunity to thank the wonderful Gonzalo and wish him all the best in his future endeavours.
There is nothing wrong with having expat footballers in the team, contrary to what some members of the Iraqi FA will have you think. In fact, quite the contrary, it’s a great opportunity to create competition for the players and increase the selection of talent available to the manager. The Olympics side however consisted almost entirely of home-grown talents. The only exception being Hawbr Musafa, the only outfield player that failed to get any game time due to the brilliant form of Alaa Ali. It’s great to see the Iraqi league still able to produce such high quality footballers that are able to rub elbows with some of the world’s finest youngsters.
We’ve lost count of the number of times Iraq have conceded from a terrible defensive error during set-pieces. The lack of height at the back, coupled with poor tactics, have resulted in numerous goals costing Iraq dearly – goals that could have easily been avoided. Abdulghani Shahed was quick to address this issue, employing Ahmed Ibrahim and Mustafa Nadhim in centre-back, both of whom impressed. Saad Natiq was also deployed at centre-back, who did well too. It’s a shame we didn’t see more of Ali Faez however, who is more than capable of holding his own. Mohammed Hameed too had a brilliant tournament, often coming off his line quickly and collecting aerial threats with ease. This relieved pressure off the defence and allowed them to play without their hearts in their mouths. A great team effort from all resulted in only the one goal being conceded across three games.
Playing in such a prestigious tournament will do wonders for all the players who took part. The experience of taking on the world’s finest will live with them forever and support them during difficult times – acting as a reminder of what can be achieved when proper preparation is executed correctly. Just ask the class of ’04 how instrumental the Olympics were to their Asian Cup success in 2007. It’s hoped that these young players will push on and learn from their mistakes, thus aiding their growth as more complete footballers.