A repeat of the 2008 defeat to Iraq could be catastrophic for Australia, and Sydney FC midfielder Ali Abbas says the Lions of Mesopatamia could yet cause another upset.
Four years ago, the Qantas Socceroos were stunned by Iraq on their way to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. As Australia prepare to face the Lions of Mesopotamia, there is a great deal more at stake on the road to Brazil 2014.
A repeat of that 2008 1-0 loss could be catastrophic for Holger Osieck-s side, and Sydney FC and former Iraq midfielder Ali Abbas says Iraq have what it takes cause another upset.
“You can-t drop points, at this moment every team has to do their best to get three points.
"Qatar will be hard for the Socceroos to go to with the climate and a lot of those guys coming from Europe - Lucas Neill and Mark Bresciano can deal with that because they play in the Middle East - but the others will find it hard and that will help Iraq,” Abbas told footballaustralia.com.au.
While much has been made of the ageing Qantas Socceroos squad, parallels can be drawn between the two sides, with Iraq also undergoing a similar process as head coach Zico bloods some emerging players in deference to his more established stars.
Iraq were hammered 6-0 by a strong Brazil side last week, as they tuned-up for their game against the Qantas Socceroos. But that squad is unlikely to be the same as the one that takes on Australia.
The likes of Nashat Akram and Younis Khalef have both played lesser roles recently as Zico has looked to the younger Lions for an attacking impetus and while the move has had varying levels of success, Abbas expects the two experienced stars will return against Australia.
“It-s the same with any team; one day you can see the good players, they start to get older and the manager has to bring new players in but at the moment we have good young players coming through and no longer is the focus solely on Nashat and Younis, but they will be on the team against Australia because they need some experienced players there,” he said.
“To see them not starting was a surprise because you can see how long they have played in the national team, it has been unchanged in 10 or 11 years, so it is a little bit surprising, but they have to change, otherwise they will not get young players coming through.
“And that-s because we don-t have good competitions at home. We don-t have anything to bring good young players through our leagues in Iraq because it has been so up and down, but hopefully in a few years it will be much better.”
As a result, Abbas believes the transition between generations is much easier for Australia than his homeland.
“Small things in Iraq we don-t have; here everything is available for the players and the league, but up there we don-t have it.
"It will take time to build the national team and hopefully in a couple of years it will be different, with Australia they have some good young players coming through who have had greater access to everything they need.”
Certainly nothing in recent memory has been easy for Iraq; the war-torn country has somehow endured through upheaval, but it has come at a cost, and being forced to play all your matches away from home because it is deemed unsafe, has to be tough.
In the meantime, Iraq continue to play home fixtures in Qatar, which Abbas admits isn-t ideal but says the team still dream of playing in their own country.
“It-s hard as a player if you play outside but you have to deal with that otherwise you won-t advance or move forward. Playing in Qatar is good, but hopefully shortly the team can return to Iraq soon and play their matches there,” he said.
As for Abbas-s own dreams of a recall to the national side the player himself admits he hasn-t been in contact with Zico. But with Sydney FC suffering two losses to start the Hyundai A-League season, the Iraqi says his focus is solely on club form, and but says if he is interested then the Brazilian knows where to find him.
“I-m just focusing on my own game and it-s up to them if they want to select me or not.”