Iraq set to field weakened team in Saudi Arabia friendly

Juan Antonio Pizzi will take charge of Saudi Arabia for the first time next month against Iraq. (Reuters)
Updated 23 January 2018
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Iraq set to field weakened team in Saudi Arabia friendly

LONDON: Saudi Arabia could face a severely weakened Iraq side next month, dealing a blow to Juan Antonio Pizzi's hopes of kicking off their World Cup program with a highly competitive match.
Pizzi and Saudi Arabia Football Federation President Adel Ezzet had deliberately picked Iraq as their first opponents as they play in a similar vein to Group A opponents Egypt and because the likely febrile atmosphere in Basra will test his players' mettle.
But Iraq coach Basim Qasim has said he will be without his key overseas players for the game on Feb. 27 because it falls out the FIFA International Match Calender, which sets out dates that can be used for official and friendly matches. Justin Meram, Brwa Nouri, Ahmed Yasin and Ali Adnan will all be unavailable for selection as they will not be released by their clubs.
Qasim will also not be able to select players from Air Force Club, Al-Zawraa and Al-Jawiya because they will be preparing for AFC Cup matches, meaning he will be selecting very much a second-string team, comprising of players from the Iraqi Premier League plus Ahmed Ibrahim and Saad Abdul-Amir from the Saudi Professional League.
"The match will have a negative impact on the level of the match, especially in the absence of majority of professional players, with the friendly played outside the FIFA match day, as well as the inability of players from the Air Force Club and Al-Zawraa to join up because of their commitment to the AFC Cup," Qasim said in an interview with IQ -PRO.NET.
"I will hold a meeting with the Iraqi FA during the next two days to talk more about the circumstances associated with facing Saudi Arabia, and the future of the national team."
The game next month will also further Iraq's attempts to lift the partial ban on them hosting international matches. Iraq have not hosted a competitive match on home soil since 2011 after FIFA expressed security and safety concerns. FIFA lifted a partial ban in 2013 but reapplied it soon after, following friendlies in Baghdad against Syria and Liberia. The ban was again partially lifted in the summer and Iraq has played three home matches since, against Jordan in Basra, Kenya in Basra and Syria in Karbala. The Iraq FA hope the ban will be lifted completely, allowing Iraq to play full internationals at home. The game against Saudi Arabia is, along with a four-team tournament in March with Qatar, Syria and Kuwait in Najaf and Karbala, part of Iraq's campaign to get the ban fully lifted and show they are capable of staging competitive matches in a safe environment.
"Without a doubt, everyone is looking to play against Saudi Arabia in several ways to strengthen efforts to lift the international ban on Iraqi football stadiums and I believe that the Football Federation had no other choice, especially after the Saudi Arabia’s FA stuck to the tie being played in February," Qasim said.


Mohamed Salah tops Cristiano Ronaldo this season, says Liverpool legend

Updated 15 min 12 sec ago
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Mohamed Salah tops Cristiano Ronaldo this season, says Liverpool legend

LONDON: Liverpool great Ian Rush says Mohamed Salah has outshone Champions League final opponent Cristiano Ronaldo during an incredible record-breaking season.
The Egyptian forward goes into Saturday’s showpiece against defending champions Real Madrid in Kiev needing an unlikely four goals to beat Rush’s Liverpool goals record for a single season.
Salah currently has 44 goals, three short of Rush’s mark from the 1983/84 campaign, when Liverpool won the European Cup, First Division and League Cup treble.
“If he beats my record I would actually bow down to him,” Rush, a Liverpool club ambassador, told Britain’s Press Association. “To score four goals in a final would be an incredible achievement.
“Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez were amazing in their first seasons at Liverpool.
“But I have to say Salah’s been even better than them, not only his goals and assists but his all-round game. What I like about him is that he’s such a humble guy — if someone’s in a better position he passes the ball.”
Salah became the most expensive player in Liverpool history last year when he joined from Roma in an initial £37 million ($45 million) deal, although January signing Virgil van Dijk has since taken the record.
But the 25-year-old has proved a bargain, with 11 of his goals coming in the club’s march to the Champions League final.
He won the golden boot with 32 goals, becoming the highest scorer in a 38-game Premier League season.
And Rush has echoed those who believe Salah should be crowned world player of the year if Liverpool become European champions.
“The two best players in the world over a long time, without doubt, are Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi,” Rush said. “But over the last season Salah has been the best player.
“He played a huge role in helping Egypt to the World Cup and what he’s achieved at Liverpool has been amazing.
“If Liverpool win the Champions League he deserves the best player award, 100 percent,” he added.