Gerets’s Morocco composed entirely of home based players swept aside Zico’s Iraq in the semi-finals of the Arab Cup. It was Iraq’s first ever defeat in the history of the Arab Cup, and the great coach Adil Basher who won the first two Arab Cups in 1964 and 1966 must have been turning in his grave when Basim Abbas and Mahdi Karim trotted onto the field ahead of Hussam Kadhim and Ahmed Yasin.
Left back Oussama El Ghrib opened the scoring on 22 minutes when he ran at the Iraqi defence unchallenged and hammered the ball past the hapless Nour Sabri, and then four minutes later Yassine Salhi the tournament’s top scorer waltzed through the Iraqi defence and placed it past the Iraqi keeper for the second.
For much of the match the Moroccans looked leaner, fitter and stronger than Zico’s side. The team’s fitness trainer Santanna was not even present at the tournament along with assistant coach Edu. Zico has long been known to put emphasis on ability and talent over fitness when putting together a team but the last performance in Doha against Oman should have set alarm bells ringing because the players looked tired after only half an hour.
Gerets has managed to build a whole new side from only home based players and has unearthed several new players for the Atlas Lions. Even with Nashat Akram and Younis Mahmoud, Iraq would have struggled to beat this side. For several years, it has been clear that the national side has been in need of a regular goalscorer, a fox in the box that can change matches. Younis does his best but he is a long way from the player that we saw in 2004 or 2006, the same can be said of Nashat. Emad has not been the same player since his injury in 2003 while Loay Salah has shown that he does not have it in him to cut it at international level.
Why does Zico continue with Sidka’s tactic of playing Mustafa and Alaa on the wings? They are forwards and should play in the centre. Mustafa Karim was once top scorer in the Iraqi league while Alaa Abdul-Zahra was a frequent goalscorer for the Iraq Under-20s team. They are wasted playing in wide positions.
This tournament and the Pan Arab Games in Doha last year were meant to have given chances to new players however the same players get selected each time. We don’t need Nour Sabri, and we can forget about Mahdi Karim, Ali Salah and Loay Salah, they have been tried over and over again. They bring nothing new to the national side. Even regular players Samal, Qusai and Muthanna played poorly against below average opposition.
Selection of players into the national team should be on merit not on reputation, some of the current players don’t even play for clubs while I ask the question ‘How did Ali Salah, a reserve at Al-Wahdat in Jordan get a call-up in the first place.’ The same can be said for Nour Sabri, a part-time player at Al-Najaf. Is he truely the second best keeper in Iraq? Are players such as Nour, Basim, and Mahdi living on their reputations. The Asian Cup victory was five years ago, these players are no longer the best in Asia, let alone the champions of Asia.
We need a goalscorer like Yassine Salhi and a forward like Abdessalam Benjelloun and midfielders of the calibre of Ahmed Jahouh and Salah Eddine Saidi.
Two great opportunities to build a new side or find some new talent have been wasted.
The only ray of light was Ahmed Yasin. It is time for a new generation to emerge.