Iraq coach Bora Milutinovic has paid tribute to his players’ intelligence and expressed optimism that the Asian champions’ Confederations Cup run will continue beyond Saturday’s game against New Zealand.
Iraq go into this last Group A tie knowing a decent win will see them sneak into the semi-finals on goal difference at the expense of South Africa if the hosts lose to Spain.
“I don’t like to think of tomorrow as our last game,” said the canny Serb who has guided five different teams to the World Cup finals in his long career.
“We’ll be doing everything we can to achieve our goal of making it into the next round.”
Iraq drew up the blinds to hold South Africa to a goalless draw in last Sunday’s opener before containing Fernando Torres and company to just one goal in the loss to the world’s best team, Spain.
Reflecting on Iraq’s campaign to date Milutinovic said: “Against Spain my players were very intelligent, the way they played was extraordinary – tomorrow we are going for a win to qualify for the next round.”
Saturday’s encounter pits the only teams yet to score at the 2009 Confederations Cup and Milutinovic knows that state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue at Ellis Park.
“We need to produce our best effort and concentrate,” said the 65-year-old who reported no injury concerns in what is the biggest game in the country’s history since the 2007 Asian Cup final.
“If they display the same intelligence as they showed against Spain they’ll do a great job.”
Defender Fareed Majeed echoed his boss’ thoughts, saying: “We’re ambitious and think we can do it, we’re fully prepared for New Zealand. Our participation is an honour for the Iraqi people irrespective of the results we achieve.”
Teammate Mohammed Kassid added: “I think against New Zealand we’ll be able to play better and rekindle the memories of the Asian Cup.”
As New Zealand are only too painfully aware Ricki Herbert’s All Whites are searching for their first Confed Cup point at their eighth attempt.
Herbert, whose Oceania champions have leaked 11 goals in their last three outings, insisted the motivation was still high in his side to get that elusive first point.
“There’s a question of credibility – we need to have a decent game – the stature of this competition is huge and let’s hope we can secure that first point, if not three…”
Asked at the eve of match press conference whether he was upset at the way South Africa ‘showboated’ towards the end of the hosts’ 2-0 win over his side Herbert replied: “It’ll be interesting tomorrow, I’m not sure they’ll be doing the same tricks against Spain!”
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