The Iraq starting XI in the last World Cup qualifier against the Caltex Socceroos in Perth.
Need to know about Iraq? Asian football expert John Duerden with all you need on the Caltex Socceroos’ World Cup qualifier opponents this Thursday, including their latest friendly in Iran.
Thursday marks the start of the second half of the third round of qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup with Australia travelling to Iran to take on Iraq.
It is only six months since the two teams met in Perth with the Caltex Socceroos running out 2-0 winners after being made to work hard for the three points.
Iraqi bad luck
It has not gone well for the 2007 AFC Asian Cup winner since – it has collected just three points in total from the first five games and sits fifth, one place above Thailand.
A place in the top three in Group B moves from slim to almost impossible should Australia win on Thursday.
There has been some bad luck however and the Lions of Mesopotamia could easily have more points in the bag.
Five days after Perth, Iraq was in Kuala Lumpur – one of many temporary homes in recent years as FIFA deems the security situation in Iraq as not being conducive to hosting World Cup qualifiers – to face Saudi Arabia.
The host took a first half lead and were in control of the game but were undone by two late – and disputed – penalties given to the Saudis and ended up losing 2-1.
It was a cruel blow and there was another one to come in the following game in October.
Iraq went to Japan and after going behind to a first half strike from Genki Haraguchi came back through Saad Abdul-Amir on the hour.
Iraq was heading for a fully-deserved point in Saitama but were undone by a 95 th minute goal from Hotaru Yamaguchi and again, what should have been at least a point ended in a 2-1 loss.
Then came a must-win game against Thailand.
Iraq duly did so, with a 4-0 scoreline and it was every bit as comfortable as it sounds with all four coming from striker Mohannad Abdul-Raheem.
This time there were no controversial penalties or goals right at the death to dampen Iraqi spirits. The Thais may not have turned up defensively but there was little doubt from early in the game that Iraq was in control and it was a slick performance.
Unfortunately, the 2015 AFC Asian Cup semi-finalist failed to build upon the win, losing 2-0 at the hands of a talented UAE team in November.
Performances have been better than results but now it is all about getting points.
It is never smooth with Iraq but coach Rahdi Shenaishil has had his players in Tehran getting used to the altitude in the city since Wednesday.
He is without US-based midfielder Justin Meram who has not been able to join up with the team
Better news came on Saturday as Iraq did what very few Asian teams manage to do – beat Iran in Tehran.
A second half penalty converted by Saad Abdul-Amir secured a 1-0 win victory. It was the young central defensive pair of Alaa Mhawi and Rebin Sulaka – who plays his football in Norway – who really caught the eye.
It will be a massive confidence-boost ahead of the big game.
How they will play?
Against Iran, the team played a 4-4-2 formation that at times switched to a 4-2-3-1.
Alla Abdul Zahra switched between a role as an attacking midfielder playing just behind Mohannad Abdul-Raheem to lining up alongside him.
Ali Adnan of Udinese in Serie A was on the left side of midfield with Ali Bhajat at left-back and there is a feeling that these two can cause problems down that side with their pace and athleticism, especially Adnan.
When he is on form and fit, “The Asian Gareth Bale” can be extremely dangerous.
As usual however, you are never quite sure which Iraq will turn up and what performance will be produced.
Such unpredictability combined with such talent makes the team dangerous but whatever it is, Iraq has to win.
It should be quite a game.
The Caltex Socceroos tackle UAE in a crucial World Cup Qualifier in Sydney on March 28. Click here for tickets.