Iraq failed in their bid to qualify for the Confederations Cup semi-finals here Saturday after New Zealand held the Asian champions to a 0-0 draw.
Bora Milutinovic’s side needed a win to keep in the hunt for a place in the last four but crashed out of this World Cup warm-up without scoring a single goal.
After an opening goalless draw with South Africa and a valiant 1-0 loss to Spain, Iraq went into the game in contention for the Group A runners-up spot.
But lack of fire power up front, and spirited opposition from the Oceania champions and some injury time heroics from keeper Glenn Moss, proved their undoing at a half-empty Ellis Park.
Milutinovic fielded virtually the same line-up that had held South Africa, with captain Younis Mahmoud and Emad Mohammed spearheading the attack.
New Zealand, in search of an elusive first Confed Cup point at their ninth attempt, made three changes from the side that lost 2-0 to South Africa.
Iraq, without a win in over a year, had to do something they hadn’t achieved in 180 minutes of football in South Africa – namely score.
With most of the 22,000 crowd rooting for them (‘Please New Zealand, do it for Bafana Bafana, win this game’ read one fan’s banner) New Zealand got off to the brighter start but Iraq striker Emad Mohammed almost silenced the locals when his header narrowly bounced over keeper Glenn Moss’ netting.
The New Zealanders were putting together some smart moves and Celtic striker Chris Killen should have done better when he shot high and wide from nine metres out.
Piling on the pressure the All Whites, kitted out in all black, had another chance only for defender Ben Sigmund’s header from a corner to go wide.
With so much at stake the game had the intensity of a Manchester derby but oh how Iraq could have done with a Ronaldo or Robinho.
On 30 minutes Herbert had his heart in his mouth as he watched Shane Smeltz outjump the Iraq defence to meet Leo Bertos’s neat cross only for his header to go the wrong side of Mohammed Kassid’s far post.
The way they were attacking it was as though already eliminated New Zealand were fighting for a semi-final berth, with Kassid fumbling midfielder Simon Elliott’s menacing 30m drive as half-time approached.
Milutinovic made one change for the second half, introducing Fareed Majeed for Hawar Mulla Mohammed, with shortly after ineffective Emad coming off for Alaa Abdul Zahra.
As news filtered through from Bloemfontein that Spain had taken the lead Iraq now needed to win by two goals to draw level with South Africa on points and goal difference and so go into a draw for the semi-final ticket.
Younis had the ball in the back of Moss’s net only for the linesman’s flag to be raised for offside on the hour mark while down at the other end poor old Killen was distraught when his 80th minute shot went wide from in front of goal.
With Spain going 2-0 up Iraq, with five minutes on the clock, only needed the one goal to draw level and were only thwarted by a series of brilliant saves from Moss.
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