On the back of a 4-0 victory over Thailand, Iraq were in high spirits as they took to the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi. Beating UAE was the bare minimum needed in order to keep qualification for Russia 2018 alive. However, Iraq’s recent form against their Gulf rivals has been poor to say the least, with their most recent match coming in the Asian Cup 2015. The fixture saw UAE collect bronze in a 3-2 victory against the Lions of Mesopotamia. Regardless, Radhi Shenashil was in a positive mood prior to kick off and was determined to steal a crucial win:
“It’s not a secret that our qualification is getting very critical.”
“There are no second chances or second solutions for the teams – both Iraq and the UAE know this fact.
“We are going through a very good state now; our preparations were good. If we give our best like in the last matches, I’m sure and very positive of a good result.
“All respect to the UAE team, who enjoy good harmony between the players and coach. But we are not an easy team. We have a great deal of experience dealing with this situation. We will see what happens in the game and give our best.”
Interestingly, in attendance was none other than footballing legend Diego Maradona.
The match started off in a cagey fashion, with both teams creating little and waiting for the opposition to make the first move. Midway through the first half, UAE started to find their feet and took the game to the away team. A string of good passes saw O. Abdulrahman in behind the midfield, where he played a neat reverse pass back to M. Abdulrahman. The midfielder’s shot was dragged wide as it fizzed away from the far post. It was a worrying sign of things to come.
UAE continued to press and their breakthrough came on the 26th minute when a cross from the right wing was only partially cleared by an outstretched Dhurgham Ismail. His clearance failed to find safety and the ball landed neatly for Ahmed Khalil, who struck the ball beautifully and gave his side the lead. The goal was his third in two appearances against Iraq and was certainly a memorable one to boot – the ball striking against the crossbar before going in for dramatic effect. It was a fantastic strike and nearly impossible for Hameed to get a hand on given how close Khalil was to goal and the speed at which the ball was traveling.
Iraq looked to reply with their own spell of possession but failed to create any real chances. The best opportunity they could muster saw Alaa Abdul-Zahra play a cute ball out wide to Justin Meram, who beat his man on the left wing and delivered an appetising cross. However, the only players in the box to attack the ball were Muhannad Abdul-Raheem and Alaa Abdul-Zahra. Disappointingly, Ahmed Yasin and Saad Abdulamir, Iraq’s two midfielders lingered outside the box rather than support the isolated strikers. It was this lack of attacking instinct that cost Iraq the match. Contrastingly, UAE were able to grab victory by throwing men forward. Fortune favours the brave, as UAE walked away with all three points.
Indeed, the lack of men prepared to join in the attack restricted Iraq’s options going forward. However, the supply from midfield fell below expectations too. The passing looked predictable and one-dimensional. The midfield often fumbled on the ball or resorted to playing a route-one hoofed ball up to the strikers, which was easily defended. A lack of creativity made a tough ask even harder for Muhannad playing upfront on his own; his only first half attempt saw him hitting the side-netting from a Walid Salim cross down the right hand side.
Not only did the shortage of men in attack limit the team’s attacking play, but the poor midfield movement made it incredibly difficult to play a proper passing game. A damning example of this was when Ahmed Yasin played through Walid Salim down the right wing following an overlapping run by the defender. The ball was played back to Ahmed, who passed the ball back once again for Saad. The midfielder controlled the ball, looked up to see no options available to him whatsoever, screamed with his arms outstretched and tried to force a pass through – the ball was lost and a foul consequently given away by Saad.
A 45th minute substitution by Radhi Shenaishil failed to turn things around as Ahmed Yasin was replaced by Bashar Resen, who was anonymous all game – It was certainly a failed tactical change. The second half took some time to get going but it was Iraq who dominated for large spells without creating anything. Dhurgham failed to capitalise on the corners won by the team and Justin lost the ball all too often down the left hand side. Both players appeared to struggle with their natural dribbling game as a direct result of the poor condition of the pitch, however, these are merely excuses given the quality of football played by the UAE, who were a level above technically.
Aymen Hussain was brought in to sharpen the attack as Alaa made way. The captain was applauded following his 100th appearance for the national team, making him the 13th most featured player for Iraq.
A final throw of the dice saw Brwa Noori given his debut appearance as he replaced Amjed Attwan. Moments after, Saad’s delicious in-swinging cross from the left was met well by Muhannad’s head, who glanced the ball across goal. It took a superb save by Khasif to keep his clean sheet intact. Iraq attacked again when Justin broke at the opposition defence and played in Muhannad, who took too long on the ball and his shot was blocked by a back-peddling defender. Aymen Hussain looked on furiously.
With Iraq looking for a much needed equaliser, UAE looked to play on the counter and could have scored a few times had Mohammed Hameed not been quick of his line to make last minute interceptions. It was his excellent reading of the game that kept Iraq in the match for so long. However, in the last seconds of the game, his luck appeared to have finally run out as Mabkhout turned in the box and played in Matar, who slotted away the UAE’s second whilst the clock struck 90 minutes. UAE 2-0 Iraq.
Another loss and hopes of qualification all but gone, Radhi Shenaishil’s Iraq must go back to the drawing board and pull out a miracle in order to correct a plethora of problems currently plaguing the national side. The current manager is having to correct years of incorrect management and poor planning on behalf of the FA and previous managers – truly a mission impossible. The remaining games must simply be used as a platform for future generations to build on. Radhi Shenaishil is still the only man for the job and sacking him will only set Iraq back another few years. He must be given time in order to create a side for the future. Patience is key.
- Mohammed Hameed
- Walid Salim
- Ahmed Ibrahim
- Mustafa Nadhim
- Dhurgham Ismail
- Ahmed Yasin (45’ – Bashar Resen)
- Saad Abdulamir
- Amjed Attwan (79’ – Brwa Noori)
- Justin Meram
- Alaa Abdul-Zahra (64’ – Aymen Hussain)
- Muhannad Abdul-Raheem
- Mohammed Gassid
- Ali Abdul Hassan
- Rebin Sulaka
- Hussam Kadhim
- Ali Adnan
- Alaa Ali Mhawi
- Saad Natiq
- Mahdi Kamil
- Mohammed Jabbar