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Iraq were a disappointing side in yesterday’s Confederations Cup opener against hosts South Africa, playing negative football for the full 90 minutes…

At his appointment in April, coach Bora Milutinovic told the gathered Iraqi press that he promised two things; that the team would reach the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup and that he would put smiles on the faces of Iraq’s fans.

After the opening draw with the hosts, Iraq are still in the competition, but the coach will have to thank his keeper Mohammed Kassid (and Bafana Bafana striker Bernard Parker who inadvertently cleared a header off the goal line) for keeping the match goalless and gaining his team a point.

After the sudden walkout of assistant coach Radhi Shnishel last month, there was even more drama in the Iraqi camp before the opening match. A number of the players complained about the facilities at their three-star hotel in South Africa. In addition, journalist Vian Faiq, reporting for ART claimed that after the last friendly with Poland there had been an altercation between Iraqi captain Younis Mahmoud and Nour Sabri over one or two things that had happened during the game.

According to the reporter, the coach Bora and left winger Hawar Mulla Mohammed also got into an argument. The player had not started the match with the Poles and he stressed that the team should withdraw rather than suffer big losses in South Africa.

On Saturday night, much-maligned FA president Hussein Saeed went on MBC’s ‘Sada Al-Malaab’ sports show and named the complete line-up for the South Africa game, which had Iraqi fans asking the question of who was actually picking the team. Nour and Hawar were surprisingly dropped.

Bora has stayed optimistic about the team's chances but after Sunday’s dire display in Johannesburg, fans back home in Iraq will be more worried of finishing last in the group than qualifying alongside expected Group A competition favourites Spain. The Iraqi team showed nothing of the guile and passion at the Ellis Park Stadium that won them the Asian Cup two years ago.

None of the so-called star performers in the Iraqi team turned up. On the evidence of playmaker Nashat Akram’s deadball abilities on the night, fans of FC Twente might be asking why Steve McClaren has signed the midfielder for next season.

Targeted by Bafana Bafana coach Joel Santana as a threat before the match, the No. 5 was not given the time and space he enjoyed while playing in the Qatari league last season and was clearly frustrated by the close marking by his opposition.

His defensive midfield partner Farid Majeed, a defender by trade, did his best in the absence of injured regular Qusai Munir, but despite being able to breakdown attacks from the opposing team, he brings little in attack.

Bora has tried to compensate this fact by asking wingers Mahdi and Karrar to tuck-in to support the midfield and defence when the opposing team has the ball, enabling the full-backs to push up in the event of an attack.

It was a disciplined and organised performance by Iraq, but in attack Younis Mahmoud and Emad Mohammed looked isolated and flat-footed, given no service by Nashat or the wide men.

The Iraqi captain has scored only one goal in 16 internationals since the 2007 Asian Cup victory and even that was a penalty. As in his previous two outings against Qatar and Poland, in which he was caught offside on six occasions, Younis contributed little and did not even register a shot on target.

Sub Alaa Abdul-Zahra looked livelier than both of Iraq’s forwards when he came on in the latter stages, but with scant experience at international level, Bora is unlikely to drop one of the two front men for the youthful Alaa, who also impressed in the match with Poland.

A nervous looking South Africa were there for the taking but as the clock ticked away in the second half, Iraq seemed happy with a point and had no ambitions to attack the South Africans. The fear of losing and ending the match with no points may have been a factor.

An incident in the last minute of the game summed up Bora’s negative approach, Iraq had a chance to put the ball into the South Africa box from a free kick and instead Hawar decided to take it short to Nashat in an attempt to time waste.

Had the South Africans had a little more luck in front of goal, Iraq would have gone away with nothing. But with a point there is still a chance of qualifying for the semi-finals and with Bora there is always some hope.

Hassanin Mubarak,