SYDNEY (AFP) – An Asian Cup victory gave war-weary Iraq a reason to smile in 2007 but if they are to win in Australia, they will have to do it without a full-time boss and with a talisman who cannot find a club.
The Lions of Mesopotamia stunned three-time winners Saudi Arabia in the 2007 final to win the tournament for the first time, providing some rare good news for the Iraqi public.
But this time around, Iraq’s preparations have been far from perfect with the sacking of coach Hakim Shakir just weeks before the start of the continental showpiece.
Shakir was dismissed after his side finished bottom of their group at the Gulf Cup, leaving the Iraq Football Association scrambling to find a replacement.
With time running out, Qatar Sports Club agreed in mid-December to loan head coach Radhi Shenaishil for Iraq’s Asian Cup campaign in Australia.
Shenaishil was a mainstay of Iraq’s defence for much of the 1990s, and his secondment marks the second time he’s taken charge of the Iraqi national side.
The 48-year-old had a brief stint as manager in 2009, when he replaced Asian Cup-winning coach Jorvan Vieira.
Iraq, ranked 103rd by FIFA, are in Group D with defending champions Japan, World Cup playoff contestants Jordan and AFC Challenge Cup champions Palestine.
The Iraqis kick off their campaign against Jordan in Brisbane on Monday. Their final warm-up was a 1-0 defeat to arch-rivals Iran last week.
Younis Mahmoud scored the winner in the 2007 final but the 31-year-old now finds himself without a club side after his departure from Saudi outfit Al Ahli last January.
Karra Jassim is another veteran from Iraq’s sensational triumph eight years ago, but the squad is also peppered with youngsters looking to impress.