Iraq v New Zealand, Confederations Cup, June 20, 2009
After snatching a goalless draw against South Africa in the opening match of the Confederations Cup, Iraqâ€™s national team surprised many by putting up a fierce defensive performance against Spain, losing only 1-nil to the European Champions. A win against a weak New Zealand side could well send the Asian champions to the semi-finals of the competition.
But in order to gain this achievement, Iraq will need to utterly change its mentality. It will have to win. In its first two matches Iraq played defensive football which doesn’t reflect the football tradition of the country. When Iraq won the Asian Cup in 2007 it wasn’t due to its defensive football, but due to fast flowing, attacking football.
Nevertheless, Iraq’s coach Bora Milutinovic was extremely pleased with the way his team played against Spain. “I am very, very happy with the defeat, I am not only happy I am delighted. I was very happy with the way my team played and I am very pleased we did not lose by four goals,” the Serbian coach said after the match.
“We played very intelligently, but Spain are Spain, they are a great team, but I have to say I am happy with the outcome. We are still in the competition. In the first game it is important not to lose, in the second game it is important to get the best possible result and we did that today.”
Most of the responsibility will lie on the shoulders of talismanic playmaker Nashat Akram (4/1 to score). The newly signed FC Twente midfielder has put in two average performances so far, but he is the most talented player in the Iraqi squad. Akram needs to play with more teammates up front in order to be effective. Nine players behind the ball restricts his playmaking skills from midfield.
So much will also depend on if striker Younis Mahmoud (9/2 to opening the scoring) will begin the match. Akram and Mahmoud can break down the slow and heavy defence of New Zealand. Another player who should play an important role is midfielder-cum-striker Alaa Abdul Zahra (“the Iraqi Kaka”) who was the most active player against Spain. The combination of these three can score against New Zealand.
As far as New Zealand is concerned, the tournament is over. The team is undoubtedly the weakest among the participants, but it would still want to end its participation with a good performance. (The All Whites are 11/2 to beat Iraq.) In September New Zealand will face the winner of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia for a place in the World Cup, so they have a mission in front of them.
“For us it’s been a lot of travel to get here, which is great. The competition’s been top notch for us,” said Coach Ricki Herbert. “It’s going to be tough for us in October, whoever we get to play from the Asian qualifiers, so we’re looking forward to that and we think we have a real chance of coming back for the World Cup.”
Full match odds here.