A winning debut for Iraq in the Confederations Cup against hosts South Africa on Sunday will be crucial for the team that stunned fans and opponents to win the 2007 Asian Cup, the head of the Iraqi Football Federation said.
The "Lions of Mesopotamia" will not play in next year's World Cup finals having been eliminated during qualifying, so the Middle Eastern nation has something to prove in the eight-team mini-tournament.
Iraq face a tall order to progress from Group A, which also includes New Zealand and Spain, the world's top-ranked side and the favourites to lift the World Cup in 2010.
"Our first match with South Africa will be the key to our progressing to the second round," Hussein Saeed, head of the Iraqi Football Federation, told Reuters.
"It is a great honour for Iraq to be participating... we want to bring back the prestige of Iraqi football, be the best representatives of our country we can, and to play an honourable role in this championship."
The country's unexpected victory in the Asian Cup two years ago made headlines around the world and triggered celebrations across a football-mad nation ravaged by years of conflict.
Sunday's match will be shown to Iraqis in Baghdad on three giant screens placed around the capital.
Key to their South African hopes will be new national coach, Bora Milutinovic, Saeed said. The 64-year-old Serbian has previously guided Mexico, Costa Rica, the United States and Nigeria to the second round stages of successive World Cups.
"His experience, ability and good ability to deal with the psychological and learning aspects make us think he will be able to achieve good and honourable results," Saeed said.
Few suspect Iraq have any chance of beating Spain, who have been on fire since winning the European title last year.
But a win against the out-of-form hosts, followed by victory over minnows New Zealand -- ranked 82nd in the world by FIFA, behind Iraq's 77th place -- on June 20 could see them grab the second qualifying spot for the semi-finals.
Iraq's key figure on the pitch, Hawar Mulla Mohammed, who plays as a striker for club side Anorthosis Famagusta in Cyprus, said Group A was nowhere near as daunting as Group B -- which brings together Brazil, Italy, the United States and Egypt.
"We are self-confident and hopefully we will perform in a satisfactory way to please our audience," he told Al-Hurra TV.
Other players said they recognised that beating the hosts in front of thousands of home fans on Sunday would be tough.
"I think it is a hard mission for us as a team and as players," midfield playmaker Nashaat Akram, who recently signed a contract with Dutch team FC Twente, told Al-Hurra.