Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 23 August 2019

Srecko Katanec wary of comparing Iraq side with 2007 champions ahead of Asian Cup opener

Former UAE manager prepares Lions of Mesopotamia squad for Group D game against Vietnam

Iraq manager Srecko Katanec directs his players during a training session as the team prepare for the Asian Cup. Karim Jaffar / AFP
Iraq manager Srecko Katanec directs his players during a training session as the team prepare for the Asian Cup. Karim Jaffar / AFP

Srecko Katanec is determined to neither look back nor too far forward as Iraq kick off their Asian Cup campaign on Tuesday. To be specific, he intends to take each game as it comes.

The 'Lions of Mesopotamia' face Vietnam in their Group D opener at Zayed Sports City Stadium, and Katanec is harping on the significance of a winning start.

“The first match in any tournament whether it be the Asian Cup, the World Cup or any other tournament, is very important for any team,” the former UAE manager said on Monday.

“I’m not thinking beyond the first game, but of course we want to win every match we play. If you can win every game, you know what it means."

Katanec, who was in charge of the UAE national team from 2009 to 2011, has been at the helm of the Iraqi set-up for just three months. Nonetheless, he believes his team have the quality to challenge for the continental title.

Arriving at the Asian Cup with a newly-appointed manager is not a new situation for Iraq. They famously stunned Saudi Arabia to win the 2007 competition when it was hosted in South-East Asia, and on that occasion their Brazilian manager Jorvan Vieira had only two months to prepare his team.

The question, therefore, is whether Katanec can replicate that feat.

“That was a different era and congratulations for them,” Katanec said. “That success has nothing to do with the present squad. This is a new generation, new story and new game.”

But he conceded there will be expectations from the football-loving public.

“I know that an entire country is looking up to this team to achieve what they achieved more than 10 years ago," he said. "I really appreciate the encouragement and support the Iraqi people has given us. I can assure them we will give our best on the pitch.”

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Katanec has no doubt Iraq will have a "good game". What he cannot assure, however, is which way it will swing.

"About the result, we never know. I respect Vietnam a lot. We will have the best combination against them, and in the 90 minutes we can do the changes, if required. All I can say for now is we will play good football.

“I know the line-up for tomorrow’s game and I’m fully confident of them,” he added. “We have prepared well. We just need to give everything we have on the pitch."

Vietnam will likely be doughty opponents after enjoying a successful 2018 when they finished runners-up in the AFC U23 Championship and lifted the AFF Suzuki Cup.

Vietnam manager Park Hang-seo, however, expects a difficult opener.

“We are in a very tough group with Iraq, Iran and Yemen," he said, "but that’s not surprising when we have to play at this level.

“Having said that, we have arrived here having done our part to prepare for a tough competition. I have a lot of faith and confidence on my players for good results,” the South Korean added.

Updated: January 7, 2019 08:37 PM

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