As our buildup to the AFC Asian Cup 2019 continues, FOX Sports Asia provides information on the 24 teams involved in the competition and this time we take a look at Iraq.
One of the eight nations to have lifted the AFC Asian Cup in their history, the Lions of Mesopotamia are often regarded as one of the real contenders in the competition.
They are now entering the ninth AFC Asian Cup competition in history and are hoping to make a splash this year.
Despite only winning the tournament once, Iraq have proven to be a force in the competition as they almost always make it to the knockout stages.
This year, they face stiff competition in Group D as they are with perennial powerhouse Iran, AFF Suzuki Cup 2018 winners Vietnam and Yemen.
Coach: Srečko Katanec
Captain: Mohammed Gassid
Best performance at Asian Cup: Champions in 2007
Last time out in 2015: Fourth place
January 8: Iraq v Vietnam (Zayed Sports City Stadium, Abu Dhabi – 5:30pm local time)
January 12: Yemen v Iraq (Sharjah Stadium, Sharjah – 5:30pm local time)
January 16: IR of Iran v Iraq (Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium, Dubai – 8:00pm local time)
THE KEY PLAYER – HUSSEIN ALI
Despite only being 22 years old, Hussein Ali has a lot to prove as he tries to help Iraq in the AFC Asian Cup. Despite his diminutive size, he has a lot of heart and talent and his decision-making should be vital especially when the Iraqis are hoping to push forward and attack.
Injuries to players like Justin Meram has resulted in more burden being put on the Qatar SC player, but he is expected to thrive under the brightest conditions.
THE YOUNG STAR – MOHANAD ALI
Controversy aside, we’re focusing on Mohanad Ali’s talent and what he brings to the table for Iraq. He may be somewhere between 18 and 21 years old, but he is undoubtedly a star striker who is ready to break out in the AFC Asian Cup 2019.
His goal-scoring exploits both in club and international level have been impressive, and many are curious on what he can do in such a big stage like the AFC Asian Cup.
They’ve had controversy, they’ve had issues, they’ve certainly faced a lot of things heading into yet another AFC Asian Cup but talent is certainly one thing that cannot be contested in the national team.
Iraq are up for a very interesting group as there are at least two nations in the cluster who have enough to move through to the next round.
However, the Iraqis have been able to consistently perform in the competition and they may still have a lot left in the tank to make a deep run in the tournament.
After a relatively subdued form in their previous matches, Iraq seem to be picking up steam as they’ve won their last two matches across all competitions. They beat China and Palestine in their final preparations for the AFC Asian Cup.
Another knockout stage berth should be in the AFC Asian Cup future for the proud nation.
Cover photo courtesy of Soccer Iraq