Iraq played their first qualifying match in the preliminaries for the 1974 FIFA World Cup Germany™ and also took part in the qualifiers for Argentina 1978 and Spain 1982, though it was not until Mexico 1986 that they made their way to the world finals for the first and only time to date, beating United Arab Emirates and Syria on the way. The Lions of Mesopotamia have endured successive qualification failures since then, reaching the last round on only two occasions.
FIFA World Cup finals history
The Iraqis failed to shine at Mexico 1986, losing all three of their matches in Group B, where they came up against Paraguay, Belgium and the host nation. Even so, they made life hard for their opponents, falling to a solitary Julio Romero goal against the Paraguayans, going down 2-1 to Les Diables Rouges and then losing to Fernando Quirarte’s second-half goal in their final outing against Mexico.
The current crop
Iraqi football has made significant progress in recent years although it still has many obstacles to overcome. The national league championship has been suspended for several years now and the national team only plays games away from home or on neutral soil. Despite it all, the Iraqis have been able to produce some gifted performers who showed what they were capable of in taking fourth place at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Athens 2004. Their greatest achievement came three years later, when they won the AFC Asian Cup, a triumph that earned them a berth at the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009, where they posted draws against the tournament hosts and New Zealand before losing 1-0 to Spain. Under Germany Wolfgang Sidka, the Iraqis saw off regional rivals Yemen 2-0 on aggregate to progress to Asia’s third qualifying stage, where they are hopeful of ending what would be a 28-year wait for their second appearance at the world extravaganza. Brazilian legend Zico took over just prior to their opening match against Jordan in Asia’s third qualifying stage, only to depart late in 2012 with Serb Vladimir Petrovic taking the reins in February 2013.
The key players
Iraq’s football revival has been driven by the players who performed so well at Athens 2004, among them Younis Mahmoud, Nashat Akram, Hawar Mulla Mohammed, Emad Mohammed, Bassim Abbas, Mahdi Karim, Noor Sabri, Qusay Munir and Razzaq Farhan, most of whom play their club football in the Gulf region’s leagues. Among the highly promising generation of younger players now making an impact are Karrar Jassim, Ali Hussein Rhima, Ahmed Abid Ali, Alaa Al-Zahra and Samir Saeed.
Coach: Vladimir Petrovic
Best performance in a FIFA competition: Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Athens 2004 (Fourth place)
Former stars: Ahmed Radi, Raad Hammoudi, Adnan Derjal