Ben Somerford

Surprise 2007 Asian Cup winners Iraq head into the 2009 Confederations Cup with a repeat of their heroics of two years ago seeming unlikely.

The ‘Lions of Mesopotamia’ have experienced a tumultuous 12 months, having crashed out of contention for the 2010 World Cup along with a failed Gulf Cup campaign. In fact, Iraq haven’t won a competitive international in almost a year, their last victory coming against China way back on 14th June 2008. That poor run resulted in 2007 Asian Cup winning coach Jorvan Vieira being sacked earlier this year and replaced by enigmatic Serbian manager Bora Milutinovic.

In saying all that, Iraq went into their triumphant 2007 Asian Cup campaign without form on their side but were garnered as a group by the tournament and the sense of occasion. Also with ‘tournament specialist’ Milutinovic only appointed as recently as April, Iraq could loom as somewhat of an unknown danger.


Bora Milutinovic

Considering the limited time Iraq have to improve upon their poor form, the appointment of Milutinovic could be a masterstroke. The Serbian, once dubbed the ‘Miracle Worker’, is known as a tournament specialist, having famously guided five different nations to five different World Cups, with four of those sides progressing past the first round. And despite being at the helm barely two months, Milutinovic has already shaken things up in the Iraq camp by setting new standards of discipline with star pair Hawar Mulla Mohammed and Younis Mahmoud, two he’s taken issue with. He also ruffled the feathers of assistant Radhi Shenaishil, who dramatically quit the national team last month citing differences with the new boss.

Players to Watch

Nashat Akram – Midfielder – FC Twente (Holland)

Nashat Akram is Iraq’s glamour boy and crucial to their success. The 24 year-old midfield playmaker, who has had spent his whole career playing in Arab leagues, won a dream move to UEFA Champions League-bound Dutch club FC Twente last month. Worryingly Akram has recently been battling a knee injury which could affect his output in South Africa.

Younis Mahmoud – Striker – Al-Gharafa (Qatar)

Captain Younis Mahmoud is another key component for Iraq, with no more evidence needed than the fact the striker claimed the 2007 Asian Cup MVP award along with the 2007 AFC Player of the Year runners-up award.

Karram Jassin – Midfielder – Al-Wakrah (Qatar)

Karram Jassin is the rising star of the Iraq team and definitely one to watch. The 22 year-old is a skilful midfielder who loves to get forward.

Bassim Abbas – Wing-back – Al-Talaba (Iraq)

Wing-back Bassim Abbas is another one to look out for, if only just to witness his unorthodox trademark bicycle-kick clearances.


Iraq’s 2010 World Cup hopes are over so the Confederations Cup will take on extra importance for fans of the Middle East nation, especially following their miserable Gulf Cup campaign earlier this year in Oman. The fact they are the only nation competing in the tournament who are out of the running for next year’s big one, is another reason to want to show their best.

Indeed, having been drawn in the ‘easier’ of the two groups, alongside South Africa, Oceania winners New Zealand and European Champions Spain, Iraq may believe they could progress but a lot depends on their opening game against the hosts.

It is difficult to know what to expect from Iraq, especially considering Milutinovic has only had one full international match to stamp his influence on the side (a 1-0 loss to Qatar), but with the core of their Asian Cup winning side still in tact, it would be foolish to rule them out considering their heroics in South East Asia in 2007.

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