Iraq need to refocus




The Iraqis did not lose a single game in the 2007 finals as they marched to their first ever AFC Asian Cup title.Iraq captain Younes Mahmoud feels that the defending AFC Asian Cup champions must put their victory of four years ago behind them and regain their focus for the current campaign.

Despite an early goal by Mahmoud, the Iraqis began the defence of their continental crown with a 2-1 loss to neighbours Iran at the Al Rayyan Stadium on Tuesday.The Iraqis did not lose a single game in the 2007 finals as they marched to their first ever AFC Asian Cup title. But while they had to endure a losing start this time around, Mahmoud still remains positive about his team's chances.

"That is football and even though we have won the Asian Cup once, it does not mean that we cannot be beaten," the striker explained."Today, our team made two mistakes and Iran scored twice. I think that the Iranians have good technique but our game is similar to theirs. In the first half, we played well and took the lead, but they came back and we made mistakes and we lost the game.

"I think that there is no added pressure on our team because we are champions. But we wanted to win tonight because the Iraqi people love football and we wanted to win the game for them."Much of the talk in the media before the game was centred on the possible bad blood between the two teams as their countries had fought a long drawn-out war about 30 years ago.

But Mahmoud dismissed that notion and said that his team's concern was all about winning the football game."Some people have suggested that there is a fierce rivalry between our team and Iran because we once fought an eight-year war with them. But that is in the past and it is no longer important.

"What is important is that we wanted to win for our people tonight and we didn't do it. But, God-willing, we will try our best to make that right and win our next game against the United Arab Emirates."Mahmoud's opposite number for Iran, Javad Nekounam, said that victory over the reigning champions should act as a positive boost for his side as they seek to win the tournament for the first time since 1976.

"To get three points today was very important so we concentrated very hard in this game to make sure that we got it," said the Iranian skipper. "But it's not the end of our mission as we still need to win the next two games to make sure that we qualify for the quarter-finals.

"Even if we win the group, we are likely to play Australia or Korea Republic but it doesn't matter who we play against because we will have to beat all of the best sides if we want to win this tournament."

The AFC

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