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.


Vardy hits double in Leicester’s 8th straight victory

Updated 09 December 2019

Vardy hits double in Leicester’s 8th straight victory

  • Leicester takes the second-place team within eight points of Liverpool

BIRMINGHAM: Jamie Vardy scored for an eighth straight game for Premier League high-flyer Leicester on Sunday with a double in a 4-1 dismantling of Aston Villa.

Kelechi Iheanacho and Jonny Evans also scored to help Leicester set a new club record of eight consecutive top-flight wins and take the second-place team within eight points of Liverpool.

Jack Grealish did make it 2-1 just before the break but the Foxes were rarely in danger.

Brendan Rodgers’ side are 14 points clear of fifth-placed Manchester United in the pursuit of Champions League qualification.

“We are up there, we are challenging and playing well,” Evans told broadcaster Sky Sports. “Probably now, today, I think people are starting to talk more about that.

“Coming away from Villa with a really good performance, I think that’s the best Villa team we have played against for quite a while and we had to grind it out and it shows we are capable of getting good results.”

By contrast, Villa is only out of the relegation zone on goal difference after slipping to a fifth defeat in seven games.

Villa was wide open and Leicester should have taken the lead after 10 minutes.

Caglar Soyuncu knocked James Maddison’s deep free-kick back for Evans, who could only shoot straight at goalkeeper Tom Heaton.

Immediately, Villa broke to spurn their own golden chance when Matt Targett crossed for Anwar El Ghazi to hit the bar from six yards. With the chance went Villa’s early hopes and they swiftly lost any grip of the game when Vardy continued his scoring streak in the 20th minute.

Wesley lost the ball and the lively Iheanacho slipped the striker in to race clear and round Heaton. Vardy miscued his kick when preparing to shoot but recovered to tap in, despite Konsa’s efforts on the line.

Vardy is now just three games away from equalling his own Premier League record of scoring in 11 consecutive games.

Villa’s problems were partly of their own making with center back Tyrone Mings unable to cover having already suffered a hamstring injury and the defender was immediately replaced by Bjorn Engels.

Villa could not handle Vardy’s pace and Iheanacho’s movement.

There was a touch of fortune but Leicester deserved to double its lead in the 41st when Maddison crossed and Iheanacho diverted in at the near post.

The Foxes were cruising but Grealish pulled a goal back in first-half injury time when he curled in from 16 yards after the visitors failed to clear a corner.

Leicester, though, wasted no time in restoring their two-goal lead four minutes after the break.