All eyes were on Iraq following last week’s incredible victory over Iran. A victory would have all but secured qualification to the next round for the Lions of Mesopotamia, but Bahrain have notoriously been a difficult opposition for Iraq to beat. The last two fixtures with Bahrain have resulted in one loss and one draw, thus the prospect of a comfortable win today were minimal.
Katanec fielded a similar side to the Iran game, with Safaa making way for Ibrahim Bayesh. Interestingly, Iraq continued with the 5-4-1 formation, with Saad Natiq, Ahmed Ibrahim and Rebin Sulaka confidently marshaling the defensive line once more. Their performance was once again admirable, but the team took a much more defensive approach throughout the match. Passes were tidy but failed to break the organised Bahrain defense. Instead, the ball moved from side to side rather than aimed behind the opposition. Bashar looked a threat from midfield, but his attacking flair alone was not enough to create any meaningful chances. A player with Jiloan’s creativity would have been ideal in a tight match like this, where is creativity and movement could have been the difference between a draw and a win.
Bahrain also failed to create anything going forward. It was a quiet game for Hameed, who recovered from his injury in the previous match. The only notable chance for either side during the entire game fell to substitute Alaa Abbas, whose shot came crashing off the post following a good link-up between Atwan and Mhawi. Other than that, it was a match to forget for the ‘home’ fans. The only performances worthy of any praise were Ahmed Ibrahim and Rebin Sulaka, who swept up the Bahraini attacks with ease. A system with 3 central defenders seems to be bringing out the best of this squad.
Whilst a win would have been ideal, a draw allows Iraq to go into the next round full of confidence. Two draws and three wins are enough to keep Iraq top of their group, with Bahrain a close second – hence why both teams were happy to eventually settle for a draw in today’s game. With Iran also challenging in the group, it’s essential that Iraq win their next two fixtures with Hong Kong (A) and Cambodia (H) in order to have a realistic chance of finishing top of their group.
The next fixtures will take place on the following dates:
- 31st March – Hong Kong (A)
- 4th June – Cambodia (H)
- 9th June – Iran (A)
With World Cup Qualification on hold for the time being, all attention turns to the 2019 Gulf Cup, which is being held in Qatar. Iraq have been thrown into Group A, consisting of UAE, Qatar and Yemen. Foreign-based players such as Ali Adnan, Rebin Sulaka, Jiloan and Bashar will all be absent from the tournmanet, which will be an interesting opportunity to test new talents and give minutes to players currently on the fringes of the squad.
Iraq’s three fixtures will take place on the following dates, and will be covered entirely by IraqFootball.me:
- 26th November – Qatar
- 29th November – UAE
- 2nd December – Yemen