Socceroos, Iraq share age debate

Written By Unknown on Senin, 15 Oktober 2012 | 23.40

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Veterans ... Iraq's Younis Mahmoud (L) and Australia's Lucas Neill faced off in 2011. Source:AFP

Those bemoaning Australia's failure to regenerate the national side should take comfort ahead of Wednesday morning's (AEDT) crucial FIFA World Cup qualifier, as opponents Iraq have been having exactly the same discussion.

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While Holger Osieck stands accused of being overly reliant on the 2006 World Cup generation, his Iraqi equivalent - Brazilian legend Zico - has leaned heavily on the nucleus of the team that lifted the Asian Cup in 2007.

But there are signs of change.

For Iraq's last qualifier (against Japan), Zico left mainstays Nashat Akram, Karrar Jassim, Qusay Munir and even captain, Younis Mahmoud, on the bench.

Hawar Mulla Mohamed, the veteran winger who did Australia so much damage at the 2007 Asian Cup, was dropped.

To prove the demotions were no idle threat, Zico has omitted Jassim completely from this squad - thought to be as a punishment for arguing with the referee at the end of the 1-0 loss in Saitama - while midfielder Munir has left the camp and been allowed to return to his club.  He may not play for his country again.

Emad Mohamed - scorer of vital goals against Australia at the 2004 Olympics and in the 2008 World Cup qualifiers - has reportedly retired after disagreements with Mahmoud.

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Baseem Abbas, the flamboyant full-back, has picked up an injury in training, and won't feature against the Australians in Doha either.

All of which leaves Nashat, Younis, defender Ali Rehema and goalkeeper Noor Sabri from the victorious 2007 squad as starting choices in Qatar.

Sabri was Iraq's standout player in their latest friendly against Brazil - strange, as he featured in a 6-0 loss to the South American heavyweights. But without Sabri's heroics the drubbing could have been even heavier.

It will be interesting to see whether such a loss - combined with the travel (the friendly was staged in Sweden, specifically to take advantage of the largest ex-pat Iraqi community in the world) - will have a negative impact on Iraq's preparations for such a vital qualifier.

Zico himself has been under the spotlight. Until recently, he was claiming he hadn't been paid by the Iraqi federation in months. 

The IFA went out of their way to prove otherwise by releasing bank statements to the media, showing deposits on his reported $2.5m a year salary. 

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The Iraqi coach - whose brother, Edu, acts as his number two - is on a big bonus to get the Lions of Mesopotamia to just their second World Cup finals.

And perhaps that's why they needed to play in Malmo - to get their slice of the financial reward that comes with playing a high-profile outfit such as Brazil.

There are unlikely to be as many Iraqis in attendance at the Grand Hamad Stadium. In fact, Zico has asked his federation to move future home qualifiers to the UAE, where more of the diaspora live.

But one Iraqi who has made it is utility Khaldoun Ibrahim. Despite a lengthy delay in Sweden, caused by entry and exit visas issued to two different passports, Ibrahim has made it to the Qatari capital with a day to spare.

Also arriving late is former Australia coach, Pim Verbeek, who along with ex Socceroos assistant, Henk Duut, will watch the match from the stands. 

The pair, who are working with the Moroccan youth teams, are on a trip to visit Duut's daughter, who is married to a footballer playing in Qatar.

Meanwhile, as Zico continues his attempts to regenerate the Iraqis, he will note that five of the Australia team that defeated his then Japan side in Kaiserslautern in 2006 (Mark Schwarzer, Luke Wilkshire, Lucas Neill, Tim Cahill and Mark Bresciano) remain virtually automatic selections. 

By contrast, Japan, who top the section by six points with just four games to play, have just two players left from that campaign - Yuichi Komano and Yasuhito Endo.

Catch the Socceroos' clash against Iraq Live on Fox Sports 1HD from 12.45am (EDT) on Wednesday!

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