“We need to work hard a lot. As we’re playing with lot of seniors who’ve been there for the last 10 years, Iraqi football needs innovation.”
Those were the words of the man after the draw with Oman in Doha. This was what most Iraqi fans had been calling for after the last time Iraq were knocked out of the World Cup in 2008. On June 13, he decided to give Salam Shaker, Ali Rahema, Nashat Akram and Alaa Abdul-Zahra a rest for the upcoming Arab Cup in Saudi Arabia after a long and gruelling season in Doha. This is in a country where the most games that can be played in the league is 22 matches. Again it seems the need of innovation is all talk because the same four players will be back for the next game in Japan on September 11 and so will the other seven players. We have heard it all before since Zico took over, mainly through his unofficial media spokesman, the part-time Iraqi goalkeeping coach Abdul-Karim Naim.
Zico was also going to give Younis Mahmoud a rest, but the player asked the coach if he could go to Jeddah. The player is without a club at the moment after he was released by Qatar’s Al-Wakra, along with Nashat and their coach Adnan Dirjal, so he maybe trying to put himself in the shop window to gain a new contract. The Iraqi captain was one of Iraq’s better performers in their two opening matches but has been the shadow of the player that helped guide the team through the qualifiers of the 2007 Asian Cup and to the cup itself. Playing him up-front on his own has not helped either. Iraq is in need of a regular goalscorer.
The players called up are Ahmed Yasin, Ali Bahjat and Jawad Kadhim.
After nearly a year in a job, the team has had no changes to its line-up, we have players like Samal Saeed and Hawar, who have been regulars in the team under Zico despite not having clubs. Hawar has only played seven matches this year, which have all come with the national side. He left his last club on December 12, 2011. In the two matches, in which his position on the wings along with Karrar is a key component of Zico’s 4-2-2-1-1 formation, Hawar failed to produce any chances for the team and at times looked a spent force after only half an hour of the game.
The debacle with the FA over the European based players has sent a message that they will not name any of the players from Europe, whether Rawez Lawan, Jiloan Hamad, Osama Rashid, David Haidar, Yaser Kasim. It seems that the Iraq FA will not pay their airfares. The only one that was named was Ahmed Yasin, a player that can not be ignored any longer after his displays for the Olympic team.
The minor changes made by the Brazilian for the Arab Cup will change nothing, it will all end as it did at the last tournament in Doha, where Iraq lost 3-0 to Bahrain and drew 0-0 with Qatar. After the draws against Jordan and Oman, which to many were two of the easiest matches in the group, fans and critics have become more and more vocal of the dire performances of the Iraqi team under Zico. For most of his tenure, the Brazilian has managed to get the results to silence the doubters that called for wholesome changes to the Iraqi team however those voices have been starting to creep back.
Many of Zico’s regular players seemed to be past their best, the likes of Hawar, Basim and Mahdi are living on borrowed time and give nothing to the team while the ageing and rounded figure of Nashat and the receding hairline of Younis, both supposedly 27 and 29 (I would like to see their birth certificates) seem to run out of steam after 40 minutes. Even the performances of two of the younger members of the team Samal Saeed at right back and midfielder Muthanna Khalid have not been up to scratch.
The team literally picks itself. Zico has used the same eleven players from the day he took over. The only changes have been in the wide positions, currently in favour are Karrar and Hawar. The other two were Mustafa Karim and Alaa Abdul-Zahra, who are actually forwards that were converted into wide players by the previous coach German Wolfgang Sidka. Before the first match in Amman, Zico claimed on his blog that the Jordanians were spying on the team during training but why would Jordan need to spy on the Iraqi team, this team has no secrets. It has been same eleven players for nearly three years while the core of this team, which seem to wield great authority in the side, have been together from 2004. Like at Champions League champions Chelsea, where the big egos of Terry, Cole, Lampard and Drogba call the shots at the London club, the likes of Hawar, Basim, Nashat and Younis do the same in the Iraqi team however as like the stars of Chelsea, time is finally catching up with these players. Zico has pinned his hopes on the senior players getting him to Brazil in 2014 but after two opening matches the beaches of Rio look a far off fantasy to millions of Iraqis.
On the bench there are slim pickings for the coach but this problem is of the entire making of the coach after months of free time to look at new options, Zico has been spending most of his time at home in Rio. He has made it quite clear that he will stick with the senior players. This will be his downfall.
The endless headlines in the local press over Zico arriving in Baghdad have become a bit of an endless joke in Iraq. He has only been to Iraq four times since he took over in August last year. Twice to train the team, once to sign his contract and one time in which he was supposed to have watched a local league game but fell ill and had to watch the game in his hotel room.
It seems that he does not know the players he selects. For instance, Zico played a forward like Hamadi Ahmed, one of the local leagues top scorers wide on the right in the second half of the Oman game. Has he ever seen him play for his club? And what about Samar Saeed, a player with 30 international appearances to his name, who was omitted after the 2011 Pan Arab Games and was recalled for the World Cup training camp in Turkey. Does it really take 30 matches for the national team to tell the coach that he is not up to standard. The previous coaches kept him in the squad for team morale, the pint size practical joker is the Bradley Walsh of Iraqi football. A right winger with limited abilities, whose only claim to fame in an Iraqi jersey was to hand Iran a victory at the 2011 Asian Cup in Doha, where he received a caution for a foul only moments of coming on, with Iran scoring from the resulting free-kick.
Make some real changes Galinho de Quintino, this is no innovation we need a full-blown revolution.