Confederations Cup 2009: What can South Africa expect from Iraq on Sunday?

I was watching Bafana Coach Joel Santana speaking at a press conference on Thursday after he had announced his 23 man squad for next week’s Fifa Confederations Cup and it was quite concerning hearing what the coach had to say when questioned about South Africa’s opening match opponents, Iraq.

When members of the media questioned Santana about The Iraqi team his response was brief: “They are a good team with lot’s of tall players, they have a tall striker, number 5”. Not exactly what I would call in-depth analysis but it could be that Santana’s analysis was lost in translation. Being the curious football fan that I am I decided to do some investigation to see what I could find out about our opponents on Sunday.

Iraq are probably more famous for their wars than their football but they managed to pull of a huge surprise when they beat Saudi Arabia 1-0 in the finals of the AFC Cup back in 2007 , which sparked mass celebrations in the war torn country. Their Asian Cup victory earned them a place in the Confederations Cup ,although they were in danger of missing out after FIFA provisionally suspended the Iraq Football Association from competition for one year, following a decision by the Iraqi government to disband the country’s national sports federations. However the decision was overturned by FIFA on May 29, 2008, since the Iraqi government reversed its earlier decision in dissolving the Iraq Football Association.

So they aren’t exactly a super power of World Football, and this is confirmed by their current Fifa ranking of 77th in the world, five places below South Africa. Majority of their players are based in Iraq, with only two players plying their trade in Europe. Coincidentally both of them are midfielders, Nashat Akram (the number 5 Santana was referring to) plays for Dutch First Division side FC Twente while right winger Hawar Mulla Mohammed plays for Cypriot Champions Anorthosis FC.

Hawar will definitely be the danger man for Iraq as he his rated as arguably the best player in the Iraqi National side after racking up an impressive tally of 15 goals in 71 appearances for the National side, which makes him a real goal threat from midfield. In fact he has even been credited with scoring the goal of the century(according to Iraqi fans) after he scored with an esquisite lob from well inside his own half.

Up front the Iraqis will be relying on captain Younis Mahmoud, and his strike partner Ehmad Mohammed to bang in the goals.

In the coaching department the Iraqi’s have fired Brazilian coach Jorvan Vieira who lead them to the Asian Cup victory, after the teams poor showing at the Gulf Cup and their failure to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. However they have appointed a very experienced coach to take his place in the form of Serbian Bora Milutinovic. Milutinovic, who has coached five different teams at World Cup tournaments. Milutinovic was previously in charge of Jamaica but was let go in November 2007 over a contract dispute.

Iraq are not in the best of form at the moment either, with the country having thus far failed to pick up a single win in 2009, so you have to fancy a South Africa win on Sunday. I’m definitely looking forward to the opening match and hoping that our players will do our country proud as host.

Ashraf Stakala writes on the SA Football Fans blog.

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