LEAD — INTERVIEW WITH IRAQ COACH

Updated 05 September 2018

LEAD — INTERVIEW WITH IRAQ COACH

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.


Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince organizes flights to carry Al-Hilal fans to Japan for Champions League final

Updated 14 November 2019

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince organizes flights to carry Al-Hilal fans to Japan for Champions League final

  • Al-Hilal secured a 1-0 win over the Japanese club in the first leg on Saturday in Riyadh
  • The crown prince’s decision comes as a result of his support for Saudi Arabian football in the AFC championship

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has ordered four planes to transport Al-Hilal fans to Japan to support the club in their AFC Champions League final second leg match against the Urawa Red Diamonds.

Al-Hilal secured a 1-0 win over the Japanese club in the first leg on Saturday in Riyadh. The return leg is in Saitama, near Tokyo on Nov. 24.

The Saudi Press Agency said the crown prince’s decision comes as a result of his support for Saudi Arabian football in the AFC championship and to boost the morale of the team to seal the title.

The Saudi General Sport Authority have begun to coordinate with Al-Hilal’s administration to arrange for transporting fans to Japan.