New Iraq coach Srecko Katanec aiming for historic World Cup spot at Qatar 2022

New Iraq coach Srecko Katanec has asked for patience as he embarks on a three-year quest to get the country to the World Cup in Qatar 2022. (AFP)
Updated 06 September 2018
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New Iraq coach Srecko Katanec aiming for historic World Cup spot at Qatar 2022

  • New Iraq coach Srecko Katanec has asked for patience as he embarks on a three-year contract
  • The Slovenian, appointed earlier this week, is a well-known figure in the region after a previous stint in charge of the UAE

LONDON: New Iraq coach Srecko Katanec has asked for patience as he embarks on a three-year contract that he hopes will end with the Lions of Mesopotamia looking forward to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
The Slovenian, appointed earlier this week, is a well-known figure in the region after a previous stint in charge of the UAE and is aware of the challenges involved with taking Iraq back to the global stage for the first time since their sole appearance back in 1986 in Mexico.
“I am happy and proud to be the new coach of Iraq but there is not going to be a quick solution,” Katanec told Arab News. “This is going to be a long process and it is going to take time to build the team at all levels. It is an exciting challenge however as there is a lot of talent in Iraq and if we can start moving in the right direction then I am confident that we can have success.”
While his first real test is at the 2019 Asian Cup in January, the former international has his sights set on Qatar 2022.
“The Asian Cup is an important tournament but it is also a major step in preparation for the start of qualification for the 2022 World Cup,” added Katanec. “That is the ultimate objective, to get to the World Cup.”
The first action for the new man is a friendly against local rivals Kuwait on Monday in Kuwait City, an early opportunity to check out his team.
“The Kuwait game is a good test for us to see where we are and realize what we have to do at the Asian Cup,” added Katanec. “First, though, I am enjoying seeing the players in training and spending time with them. There are some quality players for me to work with and I am looking forward to the job ahead.”
Four overseas players have been called up including full-back Ali Adnan who has just joined Atalanta in Serie A.
The appointment of the 55 year-old coach, who was released by the Slovenian national team last year after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, ends a lengthy search by the Iraq Football Association (IFA) to replace Basim Qasim.
According to reports in July, the Iraq Football Association (IFA) came close to a deal with former England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson but the Swede eventually turned down the offer of a contract.
Katanec’s appointment has split opinion in Iraq. Some observers welcome the arrivial of a foreign coach relatively free from the political pressures and influence that domestic tacticians have to deal with. A three-year deal is also seen as a positive in the unstable world of Iraqi football.
According to officials at the IFA, the fact that Katanec has a reputation of being a coach who can organize a team well and make it harder to beat, was a major factor in his appointment.
Katanec, who played in the Bundesliga for Stuttgart and in Serie A with Sampdoria, can point to experience in the region after his time with the UAE from 2009 to 2011.
That experience ended badly however. The former Slovenian international was fired in September 2011 after a dismal qualification campaign for the 2014 World Cup when UAE failed to reach the final round of qualification following five defeats out of six in the third round.
The Slovenian also has a point to prove at the 2019 Asian Cup after failure at the 2011 tournament. In Qatar, UAE failed to score a single goal and lost all three games against North Korea, Iran and, ironically, Iraq.
In January, with the tournament taking place in the UAE, Iraq will face Iran, Vietnam and Yemen in the group stage of the 2019 Asian Cup.


Naomi Osaka shocked as Kristina Mladenovic downs world No. 1 in Dubai

Updated 19 February 2019
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Naomi Osaka shocked as Kristina Mladenovic downs world No. 1 in Dubai

  • It was Osaka's first match since she won the Australian Open — her second consecutive Grand Slam title.
  • World No. 67 Mladenovic lost for words after surprise win.

DUBAI: Naomi Osaka stumbled badly in her first match since winning the Australian Open as the world number one went down in a flurry of errors to exit the Dubai Championships on Tuesday.
Dubai-based Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic claimed a 6-3, 6-3 victory to reach the third round as Osaka made 25 unforced errors.
The rout, which featured seven breaks of the Osaka serve, took barely an hour, sending Mladenovic into a Wednesday contest with Carla Suarez Navarro.
“This is my home tournament, I live here,” world No. 67 Mladenovic said. “It’s great to get a win like this in front of a big crowd.
“Beating the number one is always special.”
The second set was riddled with seven consecutive breaks of serve before Mladenovic finished off the job with a winner to the empty court on match point.
Osaka stunned the tennis world last week by announcing her split from coach Sascha Bajin despite winning back-to-back Grand Slam titles at the US and Australian Opens.
She said earlier this week that she would not prioritize “success over happiness” when asked about the sacking, and she never looked like winning in Dubai as she also served five double faults.
Earlier on Tuesday, Simona Halep and Petra Kvitova both won their opening matches, while Elina Svitolina made a strong start to her bid for a third straight title.
Kvitova, the 2013 winner, recovered from losing a first-set tiebreak to defeat Katerina Siniakova 6-7 (3/7), 6-4, 6-4 and squeeze into the third round.
Halep, Dubai champion in 2015, saw off 2014 Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard 7-6 (7/4), 6-4.
The Romanian said she is still feeling the effects of her weekend final defeat in Doha by Elize Mertens.
“It was a good match because I won it. I tried to finish the points faster because I’m a little bit tired,” Halep said.
“She played well, the level was pretty good. At some points I really ran very well. I’m confident. I feel good on court even if I’m tired.”
A third former world number one also advanced as Angelique Kerber beat Dalila Jakupovic 7-6 (7/4), 6-3.
Kvitova, Wimbledon champion in 2011 and 2014, said she was unfazed about the early midday start to her match.
“I don’t really care if I play the first match,” the Australian Open runner-up said. “Now I’m done, so I have a free afternoon.
“I’m not sure what I’m pleased with... maybe with my comeback at the end.”