Iran vs Iraq, a crucial match for Team Melli.

After climbing to Group C’s summit on Matchday Four, Iraq are set to host Team Melli in a game that looks set to provide yet another major test for both the foreign coaches. Iraq’s  Srečko Katanec’s and Iran’s Marc Wilmots.

Both the coaches had differing issues to deal with it be it with their federation or the players. Katanec time with Iraq has been uneasy, to say the least. There was a rumour of a half-hearted revolt in the squad with some players that Katanec did not pick for these qualifiers going on the social media and bad-mouthing the Slovenian coach.

However, with a history of managing three national teams (UAE, Slovenia and Iraq), Katanec is using his vast experience to deal with the difficult situation including the clause in the contract that will see him being terminated if he does not qualify from this group.

Marc Wilmots is quite safe and solid for Team Melli except for the small matter of paying his wages. The Iranian Federation, like before, procrastinate in paying the Team Melli coaches. There is always one or more justification and they wait until the last minute before paying the coach. This delay, however, meant that Wilmots was not willing to work with the squad until the finances were settled. The Belgian had very few training session with the squad (2 sessions before departure to Amman). His absence from Iran meant that the selection of players was trusted to his assistants although Wilmots have seen enough good performances by the two Belgian based players (Rezaei and Gholizadeh) to include them in the squad.


The two teams know each other quite well. They have met 27 times since their first encounter in Amjadieh Stadium in June 1962.  Iran has a clear edge in the head to head meeting with 16 wins, 7 draws and 4 defeats. 38 goals were scored by Iranians while Iraq has managed 19.

History aside, this meeting, although not a must-win for Team Melli, a defeat will make the task of the qualification so much difficult with Iraq having a 4 points advantage. Riding high following their last month’s 4-0 win over Cambodia, Iraq will be eager to add yet more momentum to their campaign

Marc Wilmots is sure to be acutely aware that his side can ill-afford a repeat of their Matchday Four defeat to Bahrain if they are to maintain their push to progress. That disappointing loss in Manama has left the Iranians – who after their trip to Jordan will not be in Asian Qualifiers action again until next March – occupying third place and needing to rebound in style so as to avoid slipping further off the pace.

The Loss in Manama exposed some tactical vulnerability in Wilmot’s line up and those shortfalls need to be addressed.

Iraq’s success came after an opening day draw with Bahrain and a 2-0 defeat of Hong Kong at home, results that have left the 2007 AFC Asian Cup champions well placed to progress from what is proving to be a closely contested Group C.

The regional rivals last met during the group stage of this year’s AFC Asian Cup where they drew 0-0, and while maintaining their current unbeaten record is sure to be at the forefront of Iraqi minds, head coach Katanec will be viewing Thursday’s fixture as an ideal opportunity to put yet further distance between his table-topping team and the chasing pack.

Venue: Amman International Stadium, Amman, Jordan
Kick-off: 17:00 (UTC +3)