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.