January 8 – Iraq coach Srecko Katanec has backed his team to grow during the 2019 Asian Cup, but demanded improvement from his players, citing a ‘horrible’ first half and his own mistakes after a hard-fought 3-2 win over Vietnam.
Iraq’s group E opener went to the wire as a last-minute free kick from Atlanta’s Ali Adnan broke Vietnamese hearts. Vietnam had taken the lead twice against an underwhelming and disorganised Iraqi team, but their constant running and paced game left the underdogs exhausted in the last 20 minutes and a lapse in concentration led to the fatal set piece.
“The first half was horrible, because what we did in the training – there was nothing in the first half: there was no power, we didn’t show personality a single time. I put three players behind, not because I was afraid, but we didn’t know the situation clearly. It’s the first game, emotions, many things. We have young players. Someone felt the pressure from the big tournament, but even in the second half we need to improve. If we want to go further and win, win, win, we need to be better. The second half was obviously better. I make some mistakes, I will learn from this,” said Katanec.
In the second half the introduction of Human Faraj galvanised Iraq’s game. Iraq’s number eleven scored the equaliser and Katanec then pulled the substitute, a second striker at first, deeper down the field, allowing Faraj with his bustling energy to unnerve Vietnam. Katanec acknowledged he had made a mistake by not starting Faraj.
“This is my mistake, because I put him on the bench,” explained the Iraq coach. “He was the key player. He gave us energy, he ran a lot, he scored a goal. He did everything. Each team needs a player like this. Without energy there is nothing. In the first half we were without energy, without a player who will push and push.”
In spite of his team’s deficiencies the Slovenian was satisfied and stressed the importance of a victory in their opening game. Iraq play Yemen on Saturday in Sharjah before they take on rivals and neighbours Iran in their final group game.
“It is very important to get three points in the tournament so I have now a clear situation with the players, what is our condition,” said Katanec. “It was tough, difficult, nervous, because if you score own-goal and you concede the second goal that is not okay, but anyway I am sure that we will grow up during the tournament, but the three points are the most important [thing].”
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1553557950labto1553557950ofdlr1553557950owedi1553557950sni@o1553557950fni1553557950