GK – Mohammed Hameed – A relatively quiet evening for our keeper. However, even though he wasn’t tested much, Hameed maintained his focus and comfortably saved long-range efforts, punched away corners and came out to gather through balls when needed. Also, he has to be credited for his excellent distribution across the pitch. He guessed the correct way for both penalties but wasn’t able to keep them out. (6/10)
RB – Alaa Mhawi – He frustrated the opposition and never looked in doubt when the Saudis attacked his side. Mhawi comfortably won the ball back on every occasion and his first thought was to play the ball forward. Even though he was defensively solid, the 20-year-old fullback spent most of his time in the opposition’s half. With tons of space ahead of him, Mhawi created two chances for himself. Most notably, the corners he won after his shots were on target. Alaa and Yasin seem to be on the same wavelength with several intricately placed passes between them. A solid partnership seems to be forming down the right-wing. Similarly against Australia, his only mistake came at the expense of a goal. A lack of concentration in the 86th minute, he left his man when the ball was easily played down the wing. The Saudis won a corner and it was taken short. Mhawi conceded a harsh penalty when goalscorer Nawaf AlAbed fell to the ground. Replays showed that there was minimal contact on AlAbed but the referee had made his mind up by then. (6/10)
RCB – Saad Natiq – Made it difficult for Saudi Arabia to create a chance from open play and this prevented the forwards from latching onto a through ball, particularly in the first half. Natiq would get goal-side of the forward or use his strength to out-muscle his opponent and completely kill off the attack. The towering defender had a chance to open the scoring with a header that went wide. During periods of Iraqi pressure, when Mhawi was already up the field and Iraq had lost the ball, Natiq was quick to cover the right hand side. There, he would clear the oncoming danger. Long balls were easily dealt with, whether they were corners, free-kicks or open-play crosses. Unfortunately for Natiq, his rock-solid performance will be shadowed by his reckless tackle inside the penalty area in the 80th minute. He dived in too early and it went downhill for Iraq from there. He tried to make up for his error when he put his head on the line and won a last minute free-kick 25 yards out. (6/10)
LCB – Ahmed Ibrahim – Luckily, he was sandwiched between two players who were brilliant. If it wasn’t Natiq, it was left for Ibrahim to get rid of the balls played in the Iraqi box. His header went over the bar from a corner in the second half. He was fortunate not to concede an earlier penalty when the ball hit his hand as he slid in to block a low cross. One error could’ve proved costly in the 68th minute when he left his man unmarked as the ball was played square but fortunately for Iraq, Naif AlHazazi missed a sitter. Ibrahim was unnecessarily out of his penalty area when he put an early challenge on a Saudi player as the opposition looked to break late on. Ibrahim was let off when Ali Faez intercepted the ball before passing it back to Ibrahim. However, a second later and Ibrahim was completely unaware of his surroundings. He gave the ball back carelessly a few yards outside the penalty area and Iraq consequently conceded a penalty. An all-round poor performance. (4.5/10)
LB – Dhurgham Ismail – His positioning allowed him to make vital interceptions before looking to pass the ball to a teammate. It was crucial that he was comfortable on the ball and made sure his tackles weren’t late or reckless. This eased the pressure off from his side, especially when Iraq looked to regroup on the back-foot as Saudi Arabia looked to draw level. Dhurgham’s reading of the opposition attack in the two games has been excellent. His development is clearly evident on the pitch and he has improved his defensive game massively this year. The only thing missing from his performance was a clean sheet. (7.5/10)
CM – Saad Abdulamir – Coming into the game, the Saudi based Al-Qadisiyah midfielder knew exactly what to expect from the opposition. Saad usually received the ball from the back-four while shielding them. He slowed the tempo to allow his teammates to regroup and kept possession with his impressive and accurate range of passing. He assisted Mohanned’s goal with a low cross. A much improved display from the game against Australia. (7.5/10)
CM – Mahdi Kamil – Pretty much the reason why Saudi Arabia couldn’t string more than three passes together in the Iraqi half. Kamil was everywhere to break down the Saudi attack, whether it was a loose ball or to cut out a careless pass, and quickly release the ball to the four teammates in front of him. Nevertheless, Mahdi didn’t neglect his defensive duties. Whenever one of the front four were out of position, he was quick to cover and usually switched the play to either wing with ease. An assist for him would’ve done his shift justice had Abdulzahra showed more composure and finished off Kamil’s perfect ball, who was surrounded by three Saudi players. Unfortunately, the young midfielder had to come off due to an injury. A lot of people don’t realise the importance of such a position. Remember, Iraq were 1-0 up after he went off. MOTM. (8/10)
LM – Justin Meram – Back to his natural position, Meram constantly used his pace and skill to cut in from the left. This created a lot of movement in the box and on the wing as he looked to play a defence-splitting pass to the striker. As a result, he was almost rewarded with an assist were it not for Abdulzahra’s effort (a phrase often used during the game.) He was cautioned after cheekily failing to give the ball back for a Saudi free-kick. Meram had good ball retention and this was more like the player we knew him to be. (7/10)
AM – Alaa Abdulzahra – The captain for the evening, who wore the no.10 shirt and played in the no.10 position. He combined well with Meram at times and found himself in good positions to create a chance. Unlucky not to get an assist (another phrase used too often in this game.) However, Iraq’s most experienced player was guilty of failing to capitalise fully on the space in front of the Saudi back-line. Any other attacking midfielder would’ve loved to be in that position.. He skied his shot from a Meram pass and misread Mahdi’s through-ball completely. This later resulted in our captain being caught by a Saudi defender who cleared the ball. Subbed after taking a knock while losing a 50/50 from a poor first touch. Came off limping. (5/10)
RM – Ahmed Yasin – He didn’t see as much of the ball as he would’ve liked but he maintained his discipline and piled the pressure on the vulnerable Saudi defence. It didn’t take long before he was rewarded when he won the ball back in the opposition half. He gave Saad a fantastic through-ball down the right-wing and Iraq scored moments later. When Yasin did have the ball, he floated inviting crosses into the box or used his pace and agility to get past left-back Mansoor AlHarbi. This resulted in corner after corner in the opening 15 minutes of the second half. A period where Iraq looked to double their lead. Whenever Mhawi controlled a long ball from the opposition, Yasin would dash across the line to create space in the middle of the field. This allowed Saad Abdulamir to pick out players with a range of passes to start an Iraqi attack. Yasin was instrumental in the goal. Assisted the assister. (7.5/10)
ST – Mohanned Abdulraheem – Held the ball up exceptionally and successfully looked to pass to a teammate when possible. He was offside a few times and was cautioned for booting the ball out of play. Mohanned was rewarded for his persistence when he scored in the 18th minute. He was the only man in the box to aim for from Abdulamir’s weak cross. Although he was surrounded by four Saudi players, the young striker used his first touch to create space and angle his shot. His second touch gave Iraq the lead after slotting the ball in the far post beyond keeper Yasser AlMossailem. Mohanned had a great chance to double Iraq’s lead right before half time after a pinpoint low cross from Abdulzahra. Unfortunately, he could only direct his shot at the keeper. Mohanned picked off from where he ended the first half. Yet another chance fell to him when, again, Abdulzahra headed the ball into striker’s path but Mohanned should’ve been greedier and gone for goal. Instead, he gave the ball to Meram but it was cut out before it arrived to his teammate. His last chance came as his shot was cleared off the line after Yasin flicked on an Ali Abbas corner.
Without a doubt, it was the Al-Zawraa striker’s most impressive performance for the national team. He could’ve and maybe should’ve had a hat-trick by the end of the day! (7.5/10)
Ali Abbas (64′ – Alaa Abdulzahra) – partnered Abdulamir in midfield, which allowed Mahdi to play the role left by Abdulzahra. Kept possession well but created no real impact on the game. (5/10)
Ali Faez (73′ – Mahdi Kamil) – This substitution saw Iraq revert to a 4-5-1 formation. Faez joined AbdulAmir and Abbas in a 3 man midfield. Faez saw his last-minute free kick shave the far post wide. (5.5/10)
Ali Adnan (82′ – Justin Meram) – Won a free kick as soon as he touched the ball. Took it but the ball went straight into the keepers hands. Adnan was yellow carded for a foul whilst in the air. This foul subsequently led to an attack and seconds later, Saudi Arabia received their second penalty. (4.5)
Radhi Shenaishil – Following our loss in Australia, Shenaishil looked to bounce back 5 days later. His intentions were clear from the start as he opted to play a more attacking 4-2-3-1 formation. Iraq set out to win, as was said in the pre-match press conference. He played everyone in their natural position so there were no excuses for a poor performance. Ali Adnan was understandably dropped after a poor display against Australia whilst Ali Abbas took his place on the bench. Instead, in came a more attack-minded Mahdi Kamil. The coach put his trust in the relatively inexperienced midfielder who proved crucial to his game plan. Playing further forward than Saad Abdulamir, Mahdi had to balance his attacking duties with his defensive ones. It was clear to see that another one of Shenaishil’s pre-match tactics had paid off. Ali Husni was out with an injury so in came Mohanned to spearhead the team. The striker netted Iraq’s only goal in two games.
When Iraq controlled the tempo of the game, Abdulzahra partnered Mohanned upfront. Therefore, two centre-forwards with Meram and Yasin on either side in a 4-2-4 formation piled the pressure on the Saudi defence. As a result, they had nine outfield players in their own half and played with long ball tactics every time they won possession. Our back-line won the ball back with ease and started the attack once more. It was a continuous cycle during these periods.
Unfortunately, in the last 15 minutes, with the injuries to Alaa and Mahdi Kamil, Shenaishil reverted to a three-man midfield. It was clear that the coach’s priority was to hold onto the lead and gain three precious points rather than go for the second goal. Although this did not prevent Iraq from attacking, it was clear that momentum was swinging the Saudi way. This had all the Iraqi players in their own half and the rest is history. After the game, a disheartened Radhi Shenaishil said: “The game was in our hands, and we gifted it to Saudi Arabia”. He was right. (7.0)