Australia wary of Iraq in World Cup qualifier

May 30, 2008

SYDNEY, May 30 (Reuters) - Australia coach Pim Verbeek has warned his players not to underestimate Iraq after their World Cup qualifier on Sunday was finally given the go-ahead.

The match was in doubt after FIFA suspended Iraq from international football in response to their government's decision to dissolve its National Olympic Committee.

But the ban was lifted on Thursday by the sport's world governing body, ensuring that the match in Brisbane would take place as planned.

The Iraqi players have complained that the uncertainty has effected their preparations and the odds are heavily stacked in favour of the Australians, who lead Asian Group One with four points.

But Verbeek, mindful of Iraq's shock victory at last year's Asian Cup, is taking nothing for granted and believes the haphazard build-up will actually work in Iraq's favour.

'This is definitely not to our advantage what has happened,' Verbeek told reporters in Brisbane.

'They will want to show everybody they deserve to be in the World Cup and we have to be alert on that.

'It was not going to be an easy game already and it will be more difficult now.'

Iraq overcame seemingly insurmountable odds at last year's Asian Cup when they beat Australia 3-1 in the group stages and went on to defeat Saudi Arabia 1-0 in the final in Jakarta, sparking rare celebrations in their troubled homeland.

The Australians were at full strength for that match but will be missing several high-profile European-based players this weekend, including Mark Viduka, Tim Cahill and Lucas Neill.

Iraq have been struggling for form in recent times, losing a friendly against Thailand last weekend, but will have most of their best players available, including inspirational captain Younis Mahmoud.

'I think our team had bad psychology before the game...but now they will be concentrating on the match,' Iraqi Football Association President Hussein Saeed said.

'They have started training, there is no problem, they are all happy.'