Carrying hopes of Asian fans

Published on 13/06/2009

By JAMES WAINDI and agencies

With no chance of qualifying for the World Cup in South Africa next year, Iraq are the definite underdogs in the Confederations Cup starting this weekend.

This status is, however, unlikely to deter the team. They have prevailed against bigger odds before.

Just two years ago they won the Asian football championship inspite of trying to play football amidst an ongoing war in Iraq.

That victory carried them through to the Confederations Cup, but the team has lost some momentum.

Their bid for the 2010 World Cup was cut short in the qualifiers. They were eliminated in the third round by Australia and Qatar.

Their next best achievement was a bronze medal match in the 2004 Olympics, where they lost to Italy at the Athens Games.

Arab Nations

Like Spain, this will be Iraq’s first Confederations Cup. Their only appearance at a World Cup was in 1986, but the team did not make it past the first round.

It was in the 1970s and 1980s that Iraqi football was at its peak. The national team won the 1982 Asian Games, the Arab Nations Cup (four times), the Gulf Cup of Nations (three times), and the 1985 Pan Arab Games fielding a B-team. They finished fourth in the 1976 Asian Cup.

The team then fell under the guidance of Uday Saddam, son of Saddam Hussein. Uday also ran the country’s Olympic committee in the late 1980s.

Uday was famous for the threats he used against the players, including cutting off their legs if they failed to turn up for practice sessions.

Iraq was banned from taking part in the Asian Games and barred from most Arab competitions during the Saddam era. In 1996 they were ranked 139th in the world by the world football governing body Fifa.

They are now ranked 85th, the lowest ranked team of the eight in the Confed Cup.

The country almost went a year without football following a decision by the Iraqi Government to disband the country’s national sports federations in May last year.

Because of that, Fifa provisionally suspended the Iraq Association. But Fifa overturned its decision once the Iraq government decided to revive sport in that war-torn country.

In the 1986 World Cup, the team played home games at neutral venues because the Iraq-Iran war was being fought at the time.

In February the Iraqi coach, Jorvan Vieira of Brazil, was fired following the team’s dismal performance in the Gulf Cup.

The Lions of Mesopotamia, as Iraq are known, have recently appointed Serbian coach Bora Milutinovic to mentor the team.

He is the only person to have coached five different teams at the World Cup: Mexico (1986), Costa Rica (1990), the United States (1994), Nigeria (1998) and China (2002).

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