With Spain beating South Africa to qualify for the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup, Iraq had a wonderful opportunity to join them by beating everybodyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s whipping boys, New Zealand.
Unfortunately for Iraq they missed the opportunity by failing to score against New Zealand and only managing a 0-0 draw. Just as I had written about the emergence of Egypt and African football in general the other day, Iraq could have made a big statement about football in the troubled part of the world.
In the actual game both sides had chances to win with New Zealand keeper Glen Moss saving from Karrar Jassim and later Salih Sadir.
New Zealand defender Tony Lochhead also cleared off the line while their striker Chris Killen missed several chances.
The second half saw Iraq dominate possession, without creating a clear-cut chance with the final pass so often letting them down.
Knowing that they needed the win, Iraq threw everything at New Zealand in the closing stages but couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t find the goal they needed.
Ranked seventy-seven in the world, Iraq has hardly been regarded as a force in world football. They have only once qualified for the world cup finals back in 1986 where they were eliminated in the first round, losing to Paraguay, Belgium and Mexico.
This current tournament is the first time they have qualified for the Confederations Cup and they will feel that after a 0-0 draw with South Africa and a narrow 1-0 defeat to Spain, they should have got the result they needed against New Zealand.
The Iraq record in the Olympic Games reads a little better and as recently as 2004 they finished fourth in the football tournament. They only missed out on a bronze medal in a 1-0 defeat to Italy in the third place play-off. They have also reached the quarter-finals in 1980 and have qualified on two other occasions.
In the Asian Cup, Iraq have performed well in recent years. Before winning the tournament in 2007, they had reached the quarter-finals in the three previous competitions.
Most of the squad play in Iraq or other middle-Eastern countries and the only European player is twenty-four year old Nashat Akram who plays in the midfield for Steve McClarenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s FC Twente and has seventy-eight caps, the most of the current crop of players.
The current Iraq coach is Bora Milutinovic, a sixty-four year old Serbian who is vastly experienced. He is the only person to have coached five different teams at the world cup. In 1986 he was in charge of Mexico, in 1990, Costa Rica, the USA in 1994, Nigeria in 1998 and China in 2002. What a remarkable record that is!
There is no doubt that the Iraq football team is making improvements and if they continue to perform at a high level, who is to say that they will not become the sixth team in the world cup for Milutinovic in 2014.
It is exciting to see that football around the world is catching up with Europe and South America. The dominance achieved by those two continents over many years may still continue in the short term but countries from Africa, the Far East and the Middle East may just become a serious threat in the medium to long term.
It can only be good for the game if that happens and I truly hope that countries like Iraq can continue to develop and the challenge the likes of Italy, Germany, Spain, Brazil and Argentina at the very top of the world game.
There are exciting times ahead and one of the countries that have never really been considered as a top team will soon break into the comfort zone of the footballing elite.
The highest ranked team outside Europe and South America is currently the USA in fourteenth place. That may well stay the same after their surprise semi-final appearance in South Africa. After them come Cameroon in twenty-first, Israel in twenty-fifth, Australia, Nigeria and Japan in twenty-ninth, thirtieth and thirty-first respectively.
Ghana are at number thirty-six with the Ivory Coast two places lower. The likes of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Iraq, Tunisia, Mali, Morocco, Gambia, Uganda and Togo, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica all feature between fiftieth and eightieth place.
Any one of those countries listed above could make the leap to challenge the established order. It is a matter of when that happens and not if.
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