Iraq go into the first match of their World Cup qualifying round double header knowing they need a victory over Kiatisuk Senamuang’s Thailand at the PAS Ghavamin Stadium in Tehran to stand any hope of leapfrogging the current leaders and topping Group F.
Thailand currently top Group F with 13 points from five games. Iraq are second with 8 points, having played a game less and need maximum points in their final group matches to qualify as group leaders ahead of Changsuk (“The War Elephants”).
Iraq’s coach Yahya Alwan, who managed the side during their disastrous 1998 World Cup campaign where he was sacked and sent to the notorious Radwaniya prison on the orders of Uday, the son of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, lost the services of two of his key players for the vital qualifier through injury
A day before Swedish-based winger Ahmed Yasin was expected to set to fly off to Tehran, the player pulled a hamstring in his club AIK Solna’s pre-season training match with Gefle IF and has been ruled out for 7 to 10 days, meaning he would miss both of Iraq’s final group matches.
The 11th hour injury is a blow to Iraq’s preparations after Yahya Alwan lost midfield mainstay Yaser Kasim a few weeks prior after he picked up a long-term knee injury in an outing in England’s League One for Swindon Town.
In Kasim’s absence come Olympic player Amjad Atwan, who made his international debut in Iraq’s solitary warm-up game with Syria on Friday and Osama Rashid of Farense in Portugal’s Segunda Liga. The pair will battle it out for a place in midfield alongside Iraq’s most experienced player in the centre, Saad Abdul-Amir of Saudi club Al-Qadisiya.
Osama Rashid, with 15 appearances for Iraq, last played for the team at the 2015 semi-finals in the downpour in Sydney, where the Lions of Mesopotamia were beaten 2-0 by South Korea. The midfielder has been recalled to the side after an impressive season with Farense, where he has been a first team regular and is currently the club’s top scorer with 7 goals, with two of those coming in his club’s last game, a 3-0 win over Leixões SC.
Iraq will be led by their team captain, veteran Younis Mahmoud, who despite being Iraq’s top scorer in their qualifying matches, with four goals in four games, was a direct target of disgruntled fans at the PAS stadium last Friday repeatedly chanting for the Iraqi coach to substitute him after another lacklustre performance in an Iraqi jersey.
Younis, who turned 37 last month, responded to the criticism after the 1-0 defeat by stating that if he listened to everything the media and fans had previously said about, he would have retired years ago. Another member of the 2007 Asian Cup winning team, goalkeeper Nour Sabri will start in goal and will make his 99th international appearance against Thailand.
Ali Adnan of Serie A club Udinese was one of the last players to link-up with the Iraqi squad at their team headquarters in Tehran and will start on the left side of midfield, partnered by left back Dhargham Ismail, of Turkish Süper Lig side Çaykur Rizespor.
Iraq have not beaten Group F leaders Thailand in fifteen years, with their last victory coming during a 2002 World Cup qualifying match held in Baghdad, which Iraq won 4-0.
Last September these two nations played out a thrilling 2-2 draw in Bangkok, which witnessed the Thais, 2-0 down and with ten minutes left, score two quick goals in the space of three minutes to salvage a crucial point against their Group F rivals.