Nice to see...

In an international friendly last night, a very brave Iraq team went down to their Japanese hosts by a score of 2-0. But, some things to take away from it...

-- This was a full-strength Japanese side, who are 20-something in the world, and the undisputed No. 1 team in Asia. As this past World Cup showed, they're insanely tough to beat at home.

-- Iraq had two very clear chances to score...Japan's defense isn't bad at all, but Iraq had two instances where they caught the Japanese flat-footed, and their striker was alone with the goalkeeper. At the international level, you HAVE to score in that situation, even though Seigo Narazaki is an outstanding goalie (perhaps the best in all of Asia). Didn't get the first guy's name, but he should have done MUCH better in the 16th minute, but his tame effort was stopped easily. And, Ahmed Alwan had an even more glorious chance, but at least he can say Narazawa robbed him blind. Still, their finishing will have to get better if they want to compete in Asia.

-- More importantly, it's nice to know that the Iraqi's won't get beaten and tortured for losing the game. You know, I was surprised too, but Iraq, despite everything is, 40-something in the world. For all the various circumstances surrounding them, that is an AMAZING accomplishment.

If Iraq is doing this well so soon after the reign of Uday Hussein over their sporting programs, you have to think that they have a real chance of becoming one of the stronger teams in Europe. I would imagine that some facilities and coaching infastructure is the only thing separating them from the regional powers (Saudi Arabia and Iran, in that order). They have a long way to go in catching Asia's true powers, South Korea and Japan (again, in that order...for some reason, the Far East is way ahead of the Middle East soccer-wise....you can argue that China is *this* close to being especially strong too...that is, if they can get their shit together).

I'm rooting for them...I'd love to see them beat the shit out of the Saudis and make it to the next World Cup (Germany 2006).


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