Iraq kicked off their final 2018 World Cup qualification campaign with a whimper. The first match saw Iraq take on reigning Asian Cup champions Australia, in a sold out Perth Rectangular Stadium, Perth.
On the back off an early exit in the 2016 Rio Olympics, Iraq were hoping to kick start their campaign with a positive result but a win was going to be a tough ask given the current state of the national team. Radhi Shenaishil was thrown into the deep end and it is no surprise to see the new Iraqi manager’s game ending in a 2-0 victory for the Socceroos.
The game kicked off with Australia throwing bodies forward seconds after kicking off. This resulted in the Iraqi defence being split apart – a good save from recently recalled Mohammed Hameed was required to keep the scores level following a Tomi Juric shot. Following the early scare, Australia held possession well for the first 25 minutes without creating any real chances, whilst Iraq were happy to chase the ball.
On the 26th minute, Ali Hosni won the corner for Iraq and Australia struggled to clear the ball convincingly, leading to a succession of corners by the Iraqis. Then, a moment of carelessness saw Brad Smith pull on Ahmed Yasin’s hand in the penalty box, bring him down. The Iranian referee remain unconvinced and waved play on even though it was a clear cut penalty. Another referee would have awarded the decision and the Iraqis were left disappointed.
Australia were unlucky moments after when they hit the woodwork. However, Iraq started finding their feet in the final 15 of the first half and held possession well. Ahmed Yasin had the best chance of the half for Iraq, where he cut in from the right and fired his left-footed shot wide from a difficult angle. Ali Abbas, making his first appearance following a long absence, had a particularly promising 45 minutes. The halftime whistle blew soon after.
The second half saw both teams fighting for possession but careless errors and passing resulted in a patchy first few minutes. However, Australia were the first to find their feet and channelled the ball down the left side, where a counterattack on the 55th minute resulted in a narrow miss. Dhurgham was beaten on the right and a low cross to Juric saw his shot dragged wide off an empty target. A lucky break for the Iraqi defence. Sadly, the defence failed to learn from this error and a combination of the same run saw Juric beat Dhurgham down the right and his low cross was converted by Luongo on the 57th minute, who found space in the box with Ali Mhawi watching on. Australia 1-0 Iraq.
Radhi tried firming up the midfield by bringing on Yaser Kasim for a tired Ali Adnan, but the Swindon midfielder failed to have any real influence in the second half. Moments following the substitution, a well worked corner saw the ball flicked on to Milligan, who headed in from close range (65′). Iraq once again conceding from a set-piece. Old habits die hard, it seems.
Amjed Walid and Alaa Abdul-Zahra were also brought on but their influence were limited against a dominant Australian midfield. Their passing was crisper and they looked fitter too. Every 50:50 ball was won by the Socceroos, or so it seemed – no doubt the large number of players involved from the Iraq Olympics squad played a key factor in the Iraqi team’s fatigued second half performance. At times, it seemed as if Australia were playing with an extra man on the pitch, such was their dominance.
Iraq simply looked unable to score, with a lack of creativity in the final third the major issue. Justin Meram, leading the line, worked hard but was unable to muster any real threats on the Australian goal. A notable incident late on in the second half saw Justin being the only Iraqi player in the opposition half available to receive a throw in from Yasin – there were eight Australian players surrounding him. The fact that this happened when we were 2-0 down and trying to get ourselves back in the game speaks volumes. It may have been that the players had accepted defeat at that point and were trying to carry out damage limitation. Either way, the signs were not promising.
Australia 2-0 Iraq was the final score and the Lions of Mesopotamia can consider themselves lucky that the result was only a loss of two goals. The next game sees Iraq take on Saudi Arabia, which should be a cracker between two fierce rivals – a must win fixture that extends beyond footballing reasons. Today’s team was largely inexperienced and relatively young compared to the side that finished off against Vietnam last year. Hopefully they can use this experience and get us a vital win against our Saudi rivals. Who will be the next Younis Mahmoud?
- Mohammed Hameed
- Ali Mhawi
- Ahmed Ibrahim
- Saad Natiq (82′ – Alaa Abdul-Zahra)
- Dhurgham Ismail
- Ahmed Yasin
- Saad Abdulamir
- Ali Abbas
- Ali Adnan (62′ – Yaser Kasim)
- Ali Hosni (64′ – Amjed Waleed)
- Justin Meram
- Jalal Hassan
- Mohammed Gassid
- Ali Lateef
- Samal Saeed
- Mohanned Abdulraheem
- Ali Faez
- Mohammed Jabbar Shokan
- Mahdi Kamil
- Jassim Mohammed