Iraq's goalless draw in Arabian Gulf Cup opener hailed as 'important step' for team

Hosts held by Oman at Basra International Stadium following spectacular opening ceremony

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Iraq manager Jesus Casas described his side’s draw with Oman in their Arabian Gulf Cup opener as the “first step” towards qualification for the next World Cup.

The hosts, staging the tournament for the first time in almost 44 years, were held to a goalless draw by Oman at Basra International Stadium on Friday night. The match began with a spectacular opening ceremony.

Speaking afterwards, Casas, who was taking charge of his first competitive match with the national team, said: “It was a tough match, which we were expecting. Oman are an organised team. We controlled the game better. There were not many chances because the match was tight.

“However, I am satisfied with the general performance. The team began to play in the style that I want, but there is a lot ahead of us.”

Casas, appointed in November, is targeting not only a successful home tournament for his team, but Iraq’s bid to make the 2026 World Cup. Qualification for the next global finals — the tournament takes place in the United States, Canada and Mexico — begins in October.

However, Casas said that does not mean he is overlooking his current assignment. Drawn in Group A in the Arabian Gulf Cup, Iraq next face Saudi Arabia on Monday before rounding off the pool against Yemen three days later. They are seeking a fourth tournament title, and first since 1988.

Saudi Arabia, also three-time champions, began their campaign on Friday night with a 2-0 win against Oman.

“Our main goal is to qualify to the upcoming World Cup and today's game is the first step,” Casas said. “We have a good team, and I don't want to speak about players outside the selection.

“That does not mean gaining the title is not in our priorities. Rather, if we gain the title, it will be an important step in our project and it will give happiness to the fans who give an important support to the team. All the teams have the desire to win the Gulf Cup.”

Updated: January 07, 2023, 10:28 AM