Australia vs Iraq: A preview

Stuart Thomas Columnist

By , Stuart Thomas is a Roar Expert

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    If your juices aren’t flowing for the next two World Cup qualifiers, I’m not sure what will get them going. In around ten days’ time the Socceroos’ campaign could be as good as over.

    Alternatively, they could have taken second position in the group and look good for a place in Russia with a couple more positive results at home.

    The slip up against Thailand might haunt them all the way through to the end of the campaign on September fifth, I for one, will be hoping it ultimately means nothing after our boys meet and conquer all of the challenges placed before them.

    Thursday presents Iraq and what we do know is that it will be cool. Tehran has reasonable chances of rain predicted in the coming days and even with the prospect on sunshine through the middle of the week, the temperature will remain in the teens.

    This is probably a positive for the contest itself, players coming from cold climates and having to cope with extreme heat always puts a blight on performance and with only days to prepare for matches and acclimatise, these cooler conditions should provide a fair contest.

    What is also certain, is an in-form Iraq team after a friendly win against Iran just days ago.

    Locating details about the match is proving difficult, yet looking at the result from a distance, it appears a solid win.

    My one reservation is the Iranians initial reluctance to even play the fixture, which they expressed in December. Obviously a change of heart took place, yet the strength of the Iranian squad is proving hard to ascertain.

    Iraq haven’t lost to Iran in their previous two clashes and their fourth place at the 2015 Asian Cup appears to have been parlayed into continued success under the guidance of Radhi Shenaishil.

    The Iraqis sitting in fifth in the qualifying group is somewhat insignificant for the Socceroos, as they head to Tehran in search of a vital three points, irrespective of the opponent.

    How the Iraqis go about the task will be interesting. Most would acknowledge the fact that the Socceroos are the superior team on the ball and should be able to break down the stoic Iraqi defence. However, the questions around establishing successful avenues to goal, still haunt the Australian squad.

    Much will depend upon Tomi Juric, who appears the mostly likely up front centrally and Matthew Leckie and Robbie Kruse will need to use run and width in order to provide for him.

    Tomi Juric

    If the Iraqis do sit deep, the patience of Massimo Luongo, Aaron Mooy and co in midfield will need to be Job-like and the flankers will be required to work tirelessly.

    It appears unlikely Tim Cahill will start after doing so against the Jets on Saturday and Ange Postecoglou will probably stick with his recent method of using him off the bench. Although he did only have fifty six minutes in the four nil drubbing of Newcastle.

    Last time around against the Iraqis, both Australian goals came in the second half and the clean sheet would have pleased the manager no end. Being away from home and caught in a stalemate at half time is something for which the Australians will need to be psychologically prepared.

    The Iraqis will undoubtedly set this as a goal in the hope of pouncing on a chance in the second half in order to produce, what would be, a stunning upset.

    At the risk of raising a rather contentious issue on local soil, the state of the pitch might just play a role in proceedings. The Socceroos will be hoping for something less sticky and challenging than the Ranjamangala National Stadium pitch they faced in Thailand and hopefully the Shahid Dastgerdi Stadium surface provides something more conducive to quality football.

    The surface in Thailand made the Socceroos appear clumsy and awkward.

    The Thais played the conditions far better than the Socceroos and if not for two penalties from Mile Jedinak, the entire campaign might look like a disaster, rather than the intimidating and stern test that lies ahead.

    As the Socceroos last performance, it was somewhat disappointing, despite the immense improvement in the Thai team. Statistically, the Australians were able to access the opponent’s box more frequently than their opposition.

    They took more shots, had more shots on target and threw more balls into the area than the Thais, yet without the late penalty, would have lost all three points.

    This isn’t the first time these types of numbers have reflected the restricted scoring avenues from which the team suffers and unless Postecoglou can start to generate goals from a wider array of sources, the short term success of this squad looks limited.

    Matthew Leckie

    This is going to be an enormously important week in Australian football, potentially, a return to non- World Cup participation looms. Something we haven’t felt since ‘that penalty’ from John Aloisi.

    What ramifications that would have on football in Australia is unclear, yet a reasonably successfully Confederations Cup later in the year, would still not mask the disappointment and inadequacies that would surely coincide with a failed qualifying campaign.

    We’ll all be up cheering the boys on and truth be told, we should walk away with three points. The UAE match, back on home soil, could be a a different story altogether.

    To be a consistent World Cup competing nation, teams like Iraq need to be broken down by our squad. The talent we have ‘should’ be too much for the Iraqis.

    Mind you, the word should often accompanies a salesperson’s pitch, when they tell you that your new refrigerator ‘should’ arrive on Thursday; you are never quite 100 per cent confident.

    Stuart Thomas
    Stuart Thomas

    Stuart Thomas is a sports writer and educator who made the jump from Roar Guru to Expert in 2017. An ex-trainee professional golfer, his sporting passions are broad with particular interests in football, AFL and rugby league. His love of sport is only matched by his passion for gardening and self-sustainability. Follow him on Twitter @stuartthomas72.