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Ahead of final, Iraq’s Katanec already has what he came for

Karbala: Iraq are 90 minutes away from claiming the 2019 WAFF Championship title on home soil, but head coach Srečko Katanec says his objective from the tournament has already been achieved.

Unbeaten in the group stage, an Iraq side comprised primarily of youngsters and players from the Iraqi Premier League will go into Wednesday’s final against Bahrain as favourites.

But despite having the opportunity to win silverware, Katanec says his to-do list for the competition – which several teams have used as preparation for next month’s Asian Qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 – has already been ticked off.

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“I said before this tournament started that I would give a chance to all the players and I have played all the players,” he explained.

“I think only the (reserve) goalkeeper has not appeared in a match, so all 20 players have played. For me this championship finished today. It’s good. I saw what I had to see and for the final, we will change nothing.

“Before (the tournament) I said if I can find one or two new players, I will be happy. I’ve found them.”

Iraq sealed their place in the final with a 2-1 win against Yemen on Sunday, with both Iraqi goals coming in the opening 31 minutes, before the visitors pulled back a consolation goal in the dying moments.

Katanec was dissatisfied with the way his charges closed out Sunday’s clash, but believes playing a fourth match in less than two weeks, as well as a tactical switch after the break took their toll.

“All the players in the first half played well,” he said. “In the second half I wanted us to move the ball and keep the ball.

“It’s difficult after three games – and this one makes four – and also not many of our players play this way for their clubs. The first half was good, for the whole team, but the second half was not good.”

While Iraq haven’t lost in the tournament, they haven’t quite hit top gear either, claiming all three of their wins by a single-goal margin and coming in for criticism, particularly after the 0-0 draw with winless Syria.

Katanec believes the absence of a number of Iraq’s key players means the experimental team should be supported, rather than critiqued.

“I don’t want to talk about our problems,” he said. “We know our problems."

“We are missing a lot of players here. Important players for the national team. These players (in this tournament) are our players so we need to believe in our qualities.”

Iraq’s only previous WAFF Championship title came in 2002, with the Lions of Mesopotamia also reaching the final in 2007 and 2012, while Bahrain’s appearance in Wednesday’s decider is their first ever in the competition.

Photos: Iraq Football Association

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