Basim Qasim’s first competitive fixture as Iraqi manager ended with mixed responses as his side battled it out with a strong Japanese side. With no chance of qualification and Radhi Shenaishil no longer in charge of the national team, this was an opportunity for Basim Qasim to possibly try out new tactics or take risks he would usually be reluctant to try. A return to Basra saw his side play out a narrow win against Jordan, although the performance was far from great. Following that, a draw with South Korea seemed to indicate Basim’s side were capable of holding their own against Vahid Halilhodžić’s men at the PAS Stadium, Tehran. Japan were fighting with Saudi Arabia and Australia in a highly competitive group and were looking for a much needed win in order to be one step closer to Russia 2018.
The game itself was as uneventful as can be. Only 9 minutes in and Iraq had conceded yet another goal from a set-piece. This appears to be an ongoing issue that never seems to be a priority for managers to address – either that, or they’re just incompetent. The number of goals we have conceded from set-pieces in this qualification campaign has been atrocious. It was Yuya Osako who diverted the in-swinging corner from the left across goal. His tame header was met by a weak jump and pathetic parry by Mohammed Gassid, who makes a return to the national team after a period of prolonged absence. It makes little sense to see a veteran return to the national team when Mohammed Hameed was one of the few positives in this qualification campaign. In addition to that, Shwan Jalal has yet to be tried and Fahad Talib is more than holding his own as Olympic keeper.
Iraq rarely looked like turning the game around. The midfield three of Brwa, Saad and Kamil struggled to find each other with the ball and the team looked entirely disjointed as a result. It all appeared to be ‘pre-Radhi’ football. For all of Radhi’s criticism, he achieved one thing that has rarely ever been seen by the national team, which is a midfield that is not stretched at all times. Japan managed to lift the ball over Iraq’s midfield with all three players completely lost in the process. These attacks would often result in the two defenders face to face with a number of opposition players running directly at them with no midfielders for support. Realistically, on another day, a more clinical team than Japan would have ran riot.
The midfield struggles spread throughout the team and meant that the Iraqi attack was forced to work with scraps. Muhanned and Alaa were nothing more than battering rams and failed to create anything meaningful in front of goal. The lack of creativity in midfield resulted in an over-reliance on crossing from either wing. This was easily defended given how few Iraqi players were ever present in the box. This has been an ongoing problem and Iraq missed the creativity of Justin Meram and Yaser Kasim, who are able to create opportunities in tight spaces and find the runs behind the defensive line. This would have been particularly effective against this Japanese side, who played a high line to combat Iraq’s compulsion to play long balls to Muhanned.
In the second half, Basim’s luck kicked in and Iraq somehow scrambled the ball home courtesy of Mehdi Kamil, who struck a loose ball into the Japanese net after 73 minutes. It was a scrappy goal, but they all count. Iraq were level and did well to keep themselves in the game up until that point. Little happened following the goal besides one or two scares as Ali Adnan’s defensive error late on nearly resulted in Japan nearly retaking the lead. Fortunately, Iraq managed to see out the draw and save whatever face they still had among Asia’s finest.
It was a poor performance overall but a respectable scoreline nonetheless. Unfortunately, given the circumstances of the group and Iraq’s earlier form, the result means very little and the focus should strictly be on racking up as many points as possible now that the pressure is off. Additionally, Basim must look to build for the future and bleed in youngsters and expats who might have a chance of featuring at the next Asian Cup. However, knowing the shambles that is the Iraq FA, we will undoubtedly see Basim Qasim replaced by another manager sooner rather than later. One step forward, ten steps back – it’s the Iraqi way.