Iraq look to bounce back
© AFP

Reigning champions Iraq and United Arab Emirates go head-to-head in a crucial showdown at the AFC Asian Cup tomorrow, with both sides badly needing a win to avoid an early exit.

Iraq lost their opener against fierce rivals Iran 2-1 and a young UAE side drew 0-0 with Korea DPR, leaving the holders bottom of a tough-looking Group D with two games to play. However, Wolfgang Sidka, Iraq's German coach, is confident his side can put the bitter disappointment of the Iran defeat behind them.

"This next game is very important for us, but it's crucial for UAE also. They are under pressure and we are also under pressure," said the 56-year-old. "Our bus was very quiet for sure after the Iran game."

Sidka added: "We are confident and our target is the quarter-final at first. This is a very important match and we need to do well in both the next matches, we know this. The mood is very good and we are full of confidence. We believe in our abilities. We know we can go through to the quarter-final."

The mood is very good and we are full of confidence. We believe in our abilities. We know we can go through to the quarter-final.
Wolfgang Sidka, Iraq coach

Midfielder Mahdi Kareem, one of the key players in Iraq's Asian Cup triumph of four years ago, agreed the heat was on. "We are under pressure of course after the Iran loss. We need to focus - more mentally than physically," he said.

There are lower expectations of UAE, the dark horses of the group, who had the better of their opener against Korea DPR to get a point on the board. Coach Srecko Katanec, who took over the UAE in 2009, said: "We played well in the first game and we are ready for Iraq. We know them and they know us.

"We are playing the Asian champions so they are experts and they are a team who have played together for a long time. They are strong on free-kicks and corners and play long balls. We are smaller than them physically, but we have more agility."

The wily Katanec knows what it's like to take an outsider to a major tournament, having led his native Slovenia at the UEFA Euro 2000 and the 2002 FIFA World Cup. "We must be aggressive and give 110 per cent and play tactically well," he said. "I will be satisfied if we make as many chances as we did against North Korea."

Katanec has built a predominantly young side - including the 2009 Asian young player of the year, Ahmed Khalil - with a sprinkling of older heads. And experienced captain and midfielder Subait Khater said the blend was just right. "We have some older players playing with the younger ones and they do well together. They are young in age, but big as players," he said.

Korea DPR take on Iran in tomorrow's other Group D game.