Jorvan Vieira believes his side draw inspiration from their passionate fans in Iraq.
|Alfred Riedl: Wants men not boys [AFP]|
Iraq’s football team enters Saturday’s Asian Cup quarterfinals clash against Vietnam knowing only too well the weight of expectation and hope it carries on behalf of its war-torn nation.
The team is one of few institutions in the troubled nation able to bridge the yawning sectarian divide that separates Shia from Sunni from Kurd, and its progress to the final eight of Asia’s premier regional tournament has been met with uncommon unity among Iraqis.
Given the obstacles in their path, it is easy to overlook the fact that Iraq is favorite for Saturday’s match against Vietnam, a soccer minnow that reached the knockout stages after being inspired by capacity home crowds in Hanoi during the group stage.
And favoritism is not a tag that sits easily with Brazilian born coach Jorvan Vieira.
“People are a little bit wrong. People say it’s an easy game. I don’t believe these types of thing, because football has to be decided on the field,” he said.
“Vietnam is a team we must respect if they’ve qualified, if they’ve got this far. They beat the (United Arab) Emirates, which won the Gulf Cup a few months ago. They played well against Qatar.”
In each of the previous three Asian Cup quarterfinals, Iraq lost to a team that went on to make the final.
Vietnam’s preparation for the tournament has been far more methodical than Iraq’s, although its Austrian coach Alfred Riedl is recovering from a kidney transplant needed for a condition that will see him return to Austria after the tournament.
However the preparation for this particular match has been difficult.
One key player is away getting married, another has just discovered a stress fracture in his leg, and Vietnam must adjust to playing without its fanatical home support.
A precautionary x-ray on Friday revealed that central defender Nguyen Huy Hoang has a stress fracture that Riedl would only locate as being in his lower leg.
|“Anyone else getting married?”: Vietnamese football coach Alfred Riedl
addresses his players [AFP]
“The player will decide himself if he will play, not the doctor, not me,” Riedl said Friday.
“We will not force or pressure a player to play. It’s the same with our midfield player (Phan Van) Tai Em who is getting married tomorrow. He could not change the date because there are too many people coming to his wedding and he had his head set on this date.”
Vietnam were underdogs even before the absences were known, and there is a sense the team may have achieved as much as it can by reaching the quarterfinals, but Riedl is not yet satisfied.
“I don’t know if they are heroes for winning one match and drawing one, but it was a great achievement for Vietnamese football, there is no question,” Riedl said.
“But I asked the players, did you come here to lose the match or do you want to go to Malaysia for the semifinal?
“The players must go out there without fear, they need to go out there and be men. We don’t need small boys tomorrow, we need men.”