Group 1, Asian world cup qualifiers matchday 2 review, Qatar 2 v Iraq 0
JUST when we thought that the Socceroos group was a battle in three between Iraq, China and Australia came a spanner in the works in the form of a comprehensive Qatari home win over the Asian champions early on Thursday morning our time.
Muppets on the road on matchday one in Melbourne
, this was a completely different Qatari team, both in attitude and personnel.
Playing at the intimate Al Saad Stadium certainly played a role, but the main reason for the change in fortunes was the performance of their front quartet, led superby by central striker Sebastian Soria Quintana, with great support from fellow South-American ring-ins Emerson and the two goal-getter, Fabio Cesar . The only 'Qatari' of the four was the tiny Hussain Yasser, but he was hardly as inflential as the other three.
In Melbourne, only Cesar was on deck, and after a couple of handy early touches, we hardly saw him thereafter as the Socceroos dominated.
But here, when he whipped in an early ball from the right, with his neat left peg, Soria attacked it and Iraqi keeper Noor Sabri was rooted. Later, he picked up a loose ball inside the box, turned and snuck it under Sabri.
How that Telstra Dome game might have been completely different had Soria and Emerson been on deck.
Watching them in the wee-hours on Thursday morning was a joy.
Soria, a one man band at the Asian Cup, now has two mates to play with, and what an awesome trio they are. Soria is still as direct, powerful and skilfull as ever and caused the Iraqi defence, especially the bald headed Jassim Gholam, no end of trouble.
But Emerson, the naturalised Brazilian, was equally as impressive in my mind, quick, mobile and brilliant on the ball. In true Brazilian style he likes to link with those around him and play in small spaces.
The trio also brought their teammates up a few notches. Players who had looked like plodders in Melbourne, such as central defenders Marconi Amaral (another naturalised Brazilian) and Abdulla Kone, and holding midfielder Talal Albloushi, suddenly looked world-beaters.
Prompted by their South American attacking trio and encouraged by the wily Uruguyan Jorge Fossati, Qatar are well and truely back in the race to get out of the 'group of death'.
So what then to make of Iraq?
Well, amazing what a few months and a change of manager can do to a side. From champs to chumps, it seems (the Socceroos look to have gone the other way).
Gholam looks like he might have enjoyed the celebrations a few months ago too much, and he wasn't the only dissapointment.
With Nashat Akram suspended after being sent off against China, Iraq were rudderless in central midfield. Qusay Munir, such an infleunce late in the title run (so much so I had him in my Team of the Tournament
), was terrible, spraying the ball all over the shop, while the 'new number five', Haitham Tahir, was a pale imitation of Akram.
Subsequently, Younis Mahmood never got into the game.
And the 'new' manager (he is actually coaching the team for the fifth time), Adnan Hamad, who took over from Egil Olsen, who took over from Jorvan Vieria, got it all wrong. With Asian Cup left back Bassim Abbas (he of the bald head and over-head kicks) injured, Hamad went to a back three and played 'attacker' Hawar Mulla Mohammad far too deep as a left wing-back.
It proved fatal, as Qatar repeatedly utilised the space in behind him and exposed Mulla Mohammad's defensive game, or lack thereof. By the time Hamad re-adjusted, in the second period, the damage had been done.
Now Iraq sit bottom, with two games against the Roos to come, the first down under.
Two months away, there's every chance there'll be another manager for Pim Verbeek to deal with and that Iraq will lift as a result. We can't be complacent.
Everywhere you look there are challenges. China may well have taken us to 1900 metres
, but there will be other hurdles between now and the end of phase three. Perhaps the biggest, thanks to the wonderful Emerson, Soria and Cesar, will be the trip to Doha on June 14.