Obaid: Good preparation vital for Iraq success
Baghdad: Former Iraq captain Abbas Obaid believes the 2007 champions are in for a tough test at AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 and will need to make the most of their 20-day training camp in Qatar.
"The Iraqi league is now on a break for 40 days, 20 days for the training camp in Qatar and 20 days for the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 - this is a vital time for the national side," says the man who skippered the side at the 2000 AFC Asian Cup in Lebanon.
"Because our domestic league is not at its strongest level in recent times, I feel the players may find it difficult to raise their game to match the standard of the Asian Cup."
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"So in this training camp, and in the friendly matches against other international sides, the Iraq players will have a chance for a good preparation for UAE 2019 - this is crucially important for the team.
"I watched the recent friendlies against Argentina and Saudi Arabia and the performances were not bad.
"Of course losing to Argentina, one of the strongest teams in world football, is normal but there were positive signs against the Saudis."
Ahead of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup four years ago, Obaid told the-AFC.com Iraq were good enough to reach the knockout stage but feared a clash with "someone like Korea Republic or Japan, as they are very strong teams."
A prediction that proved accurate: Iraq were beaten 2-0 by the Koreans in the semi-finals.
His thoughts on the UAE 2019 hopefuls? It's going to be difficult for Iraq.
"The team that went to Australia was very good, a high level side with good and experienced players like Younis Mahmoud," recollects Obaid.
"There's a big difference now. They don't have the big star names like before that can lead the team with exceptional individual performances.
"It's also going to be a very difficult group. Both Islamic Republic of Iran and Vietnam are very good. I watched the Vietnam team in the 2018 AFC U-23 Championship and the Asian Games and they were very impressive.
"It will be tough to be one of the qualifiers for the knockout stage from this group.
"If I have to make a prediction, I would say the quarter-finals this time is possible for Iraq, but I can't see them reaching the semi-final again, there are too many good teams.
"But under coach [Srecko] Katanec maybe they can do something good at this tournament, let's see."
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