Australia V Iraq Preview
Tonight’s match between Australian and Iraq may only be a friendly international, but try telling that to both sets of players, who take the field. For varying reasons this match holds extra significance for both teams and should ensure a high quality and closely fought game.
By Ben Coonan & David Cooper Tonight-s match between Australian and Iraq may only be a friendly international, but try telling that to both sets of players, who take the field. For varying reasons this match holds extra significance for both teams and should ensure a high quality and closely fought game.
For Iraq, the Athens Olympics campaign was one of the true sporting highlights of 2004. Faced with unfathomable hardship at home and forced to prepare in frightful conditions, the unfancied Iraqi-s reached the semi finals of the 16-team tournament, defeating Portugal, Costa Rica and Australia along the way.
Millions of Iraqi-s at home and around the world were celebrating a unique footballing triumph and one that truly celebrated the potential for football to promote global unity.
Athens showed that Iraq-s passion and fervour for their national sport has remarkably lost no momentum in recent years and over two weeks in Greece, another page of incredible sporting romance and melodrama was written into Iraqi football history.
Unlike Australia however, Iraq-s World Cup dream for 2006 is over, after the Gulf nation dropped out of the running having finished second to under-rated Uzbekistan in their must-win qualifying group.
New Iraqi coach Akram Salman has been forced to pick a relatively inexperienced squad for the trip to Australia, but for many of the squad the last meeting against Australia was a memorable one and they would like that to continue.
At least half the starting team in tonight-s game were part of the Olympics victory over Australia in the quarter finals, an experience they all savoured and will be keen to replicate tonight.
Iraq will also want to show Australia that the decision by the AFC to invite them to join their confederation from 2006 will be no bed of roses, as many here in Australia think it will be. So in a way they are representing all current AFC national teams and will give them that little incentive to cause an upset.
Australia on the other hand, will be looking at this game in different ways, most notably to continue its preparation for the 2005 Confederations Cup (June) and followed by the World Cup play-off-s, firstly against the Solomon Islands and then against the fifth-placed South American team.
For Australia this is a good opportunity to show just how much it can bring to the party, if Australia ultimately does become a member of the AFC (Any such move needs to be ratified by FIFA later this year).
There is no doubt that Frank Farina (pictured with Tim Cahill) will be looking for a convincing win, for his starting line-up is close to full strength and in the back of his mind, he will be looking to exact a little revenge on Iraq for the quarter final loss at the Olympics.
It has been 32 years since they last met in a senior level match and they just happened to be World Cup qualifiers on the way to Australia-s only appearance at a World Cup finals. Ironically, Indonesia, Australia-s opponent in three days time, was also an opponent in that campaign.
Australia-s 3-1 win in Sydney, proved the decisive result in moving through to the next phase of qualifiers.
Despite the failure of not making it through the final qualifying phase for the Asian World Cup spot, this is an important time for Iraqi football. The Iraqi Football Association have recently re-launched their re-structured domestic league with the current season due to conclude in May.
Despite adversity the likes of which most international football teams are unlikely to ever experience, Iraq have continued to flag their spirit and ambition on the world stage and those attributes will no doubt again be on display at Telstra Stadium.
Australia play Iraq at Telstra Stadium in Sydney tonight, with kick-off at 7.00pm. This match will be preceded by the Australian Women-s national team playing against Japan, with kick-off at 4.00pm.
Gates open at 3.45pm.
Tickets available at the ground.