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Iraq v Japan: The history

Basim Qasim’s Iraq go into their World Cup qualifier with group leaders Japan at the Pas stadium in Tehran tomorrow with nothing to lose after being eliminated from the World Cup after their 2-0 defeat to Saudi Arabia in Jeddah – the fifth loss in their seven Group B matches.

The World Cup qualifier in Tehran will be the 13th meeting between Iraq and Japan with the Blue Samurais winning the last seven games against the Lions of Mesopotamia. In that time Iraq have managed just two goals– scored by Abbas Obaid and Saad Abdul-Amir who headed a goal in the corresponding World Cup fixture in Saitama. Iraq has not beaten Japan in an international in 33 years and lost every single one of their meetings with Japan since the 2-2 draw at the 1994 World Cup qualifiers in Doha.

Hiroshi Nanami,  Shinji Okazaki, Keisuke Honda and Genki Haraguchi  are the top scorers in this fixture with two goals each.

Japan’s Bosnian coach Vahid Halilhodžić could join Iraq’s Ammo Baba as the only coach to win three matches in meetings between Japan-Iraq if his side defeats Iraq tomorrow. We at Ahdaaf look at the history behind this fixture and the previous twelve meetings between Iraq and Japan.


Iraq 0-0 Japan (1978)
The first international between the two nations was held on the neutral venue of Kuala Lumpur at the XXII Merdeka Tournament in 1978. Iraq were held in a 0-0 stalemate with a star-studded team managed by Yugoslav coach Lenko Grcic “Gaga” which included goalkeeper Raad Hammoudi the current president of Iraq’s Olympic committee and captained by Falah Hassan, the club president of reigning Iraqi league champions Al-Zawraa. Iraq were beaten 2-0 in the Merdeka final by South Korea with Japan finishing in fifth place in the group stage.

Iraq 2-0 Japan (1981)
Ali Hussein Shihab 8′, Faisal Aziz 60′
The second meeting came in the semi-finals of the XXV Merdeka Tournament where Ammo Baba notched up Iraq’s first victory over Nippon. The late Ali Hussein was the first player to score in matches involving the two nations at the Merdeka Stadium in Kuala Lumpur while Faisal Aziz added a second after an hour. Iraq went onto lift the Merdeka trophy with a 1-0 win over a Sao Paulo selection.

Iraq 1-0 Japan (1982)
Emad Jassim 102’
The two teams met in the quarter-finals of the Asian Games in New Delhi – won by a 102nd minute Emad Jassim goal. The winger was making only his third appearance for Iraq and came on early in the second half to score his first goal for the team. Ammo Baba had completely revamped his team after Iraq were forced to make exit from the Gulf Cup in Abu Dhabi by the Iraqi president Saddam Hussein for “sporting reasons”. The Iraqi coach dropped five regulars including Hadi Ahmed and the all-time international caps holder Falah Hassan, to introduce new names into the side, one being goal scorer Emad Jassim!

Iraq 2-1 Japan (1984)
Wamidh Munir 2′, Adnan Dirjal 43′; Hiromi Hara 34′
Ammo Baba helped Iraq to their third consecutive victory over Japan in an Olympic qualifier held in Singapore. Iraq’s Wamidh Munir netted the quickest goal in an Iraq-Japan tie – scoring after only two minutes. It had been the forward’s second goal in as many games. Hiromi Hara – Japan’s current technical director – equalised on 34 minutes, but Adnan Dirjal grabbed the winner two minutes before half-time. This was the last time Iraq have beaten Japan in an international.


Iraq 2-2 Japan (1993)
Ahmed Radhi 54′, Jafar Omran 90′; Kazuyoshi Miura 5’, Masashi Nakayama 80′
The game which shocked a nation and remembered by the Nippon fans as the ‘Tragedy of Doha’. The Japanese under the management of the cream-suit wearing Dutchman Hans Ooft were looking to qualify for the World Cup for a first time on the back of the success of the introduction of the new professional J-League. They took the lead through Kazuyoshi Miura – yes, the very same Kazuyoshi Miura still going strong at 50 in the J-League Division 2 with Yokohama FC – after only five minutes. However Iraq’s captain Ahmed Radhi grabbed an equaliser ten minutes into the second half. Another legendary striker Masashi Nakayama looked to have put Japan into a World Cup with a goal scored ten minutes from time, but there was late drama when the late Munthir Khalaf crossed in from the right to plant a ball onto the head of Jafar Omran to score a dramatic equaliser in the last minute which ended in the World Cup hopes of the Japanese side with rivals South Korea qualifying in their place. The goal scorer Jafar Omran –with his first and only goal for Iraq in his four internationals became a hero in South Korea and later went onto tour the country and gifted a Korean car. The match – which has become part of Japanese football legend and folkore, with an episode of the fixture depicted on the popular animation cartoon Captain Tsubasa – turned the tide for Japan and since then have won every match they have played against Iraq.

Iraq's Younus Mahmood (L) fights for the ball against Japan's Masato Morishige during their Asian Cup Group D soccer match at the Brisbane Stadium in Brisbane January 16, 2015. REUTERS/Edgar Su (AUSTRALIA - Tags: SOCCER SPORT)

Iraq’s Younus Mahmood (L) fights for the ball against Japan’s Masato Morishige during their Asian Cup Group D soccer match at the Brisbane Stadium in Brisbane January 16, 2015. REUTERS/Edgar Su (AUSTRALIA – Tags: SOCCER SPORT)

Japan 4-1 Iraq (2000)
Hiroshi Nanami 8′, 29′, Naohiro Takahara 11′, Tomokazu Myojin 62′; Abbas Obaid 4′
It would be seven years before the two nations would met again, and it came in the quarterfinals of the 2000 Asian Cup in Beirut. Japan managed by the French professor Philippe Troussier had been free-scoring in the group stage putting four past Saudi Arabia and eight past Uzbekistan. This was not forgotten by Iraq’s coach Milan Živadinović and he rearranged his team – starting with an unfamiliar defensive formation of four centre backs and two wing-backs. The move looked to have stifled the opposition when Abbas Obaid of Korea club Pohang Steelers fired in the opener after four minutes, but the goal only managed to fire up the Troussier’s players and Iraq were railroaded by an impressive Japan team and went into the break 3-1! Iraq’s coach moved his pack around and changed the team’s shape but they had no answer to Hiroshi Nanami, Junichi Inamoto, Shunsuke Nakamura and Naohiro Takahara as Japan comfortably won 4-1 and went onto lift their second Asian Cup title. After the team’s return to Baghdad, three players Hashim Khamis, Jabar Hashim and Qahtan Chathir were summoned to the Iraqi Olympic Committee by Saddam’s son Uday and imprisoned for their performance in the defeat to Japan.

Japan 2-0 Iraq (2004)
Atsushi Yanagisawa 47′, Alessandro Santos ‘Alex’ 84′
The first game of 2004 would see Iraq in Tokyo to play Japan, one of the nations with occupying soldiers in Iraq situated in the south of the country. “We have nothing, in Baghdad. No grass, no fitness centre, no medical centre, no medicine. Nothing. We had three weeks to train.” Iraq’s coach Bernd Stange cried on the team’s arrival in Tokyo but they gave a good account of themselves despite losing 2-0 that even Japan’s coach Zico admitted in the post-match press conference that his side made “too many mistakes” and could have lost. Stange blamed the defeat on Iraq’s missed chances “If we had (Ruud) van Nistelrooy in the Iraq team, we could have scored two goals. Japan took their chances clinically, but I wouldn’t say there was any real difference in class.”

Japan 1-0 Iraq (2012)
Ryoichi Maeda 25′
Iraq’s coach Zico made 10 changes to the side which had played Jordan and Oman in the previous World Cup qualifiers, with only Muthanna Khalid starting and gave debuts to Ali Bahjat and Walid Salim and starts to Ahmed Yasin, Hamadi Ahmed and Amjad Radhi. The new-look Iraq team made a good start but it was Japan who took the lead through Ryoichi Maeda and despite the Brazilian Zico throwing on the three dropped players Karrar Jassim, Nashat Akram and Younis Mahmoud late into the second half, Iraq lost the first of their World Cup group games.


Iraq 0-1 Japan (2013)
Shinji Okazaki 89′
Japan managed their third successive victory over Iraq in a World Cup qualifier in Doha where Nippon fans outnumbered the Iraqi spectators. Iraq were under the new management of Serbian Vladimir Petrović who had persuaded Nashat Akram to go back on his word on retirement but played him on the wing in a qualifying defeat to Oman and then benched him for the tie with Japan! In a sombre mood in Doha, Iraq, needing a victory, took the game to the Japanese side but were unable to open the opposition’s defence, and after going down to ten-men after the sending off of Alaa Abdul-Zahra for a second bookable offence, they were beaten by a late counter that was finished off by Shinji Okazaki. On the evening before the game, Iraq’s captain Younis Mahmoud had announced on his own website that he would retire from football after the Japan game. The defeat meant Iraq could not finish any higher than fourth, even if they defeated Australia in their final game. Younis and Nashat both retired after the game while Ali Rahema was suspended for a second booking in the qualifying campaign and then suspended by the Iraq FA for what they saw as the player’s deliberate attempt to get himself booked to avoid traveling to Australia!

Iraq's Ali Adnan Kadhim takes a free kick toward the Japan defensive wall of (L to R) Yasuhito Endo, Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa during their Asian Cup Group D soccer match at the Brisbane Stadium in Brisbane January 16, 2015. REUTERS/Edgar Su (AUSTRALIA - Tags: SOCCER SPORT)

Iraq’s Ali Adnan takes a free kick toward the Japan defensive wall of (L to R) Yasuhito Endo, Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa during their Asian Cup Group D soccer match at the Brisbane Stadium in Brisbane January 16, 2015. REUTERS/Edgar Su (AUSTRALIA – Tags: SOCCER SPORT)

Japan 1-0 Iraq (2015)
Keisuke Honda 23′ pen
Two years ago the two nations met in Brisbane at a 2015 Asian Cup group game. Japan’s Keisuke Honda hit the post on three occasions on the night at the Suncorp Stadium but after being sandwiched between Ali Adnan and Saad Abdul-Amir, the Iranian referee Alireza Faghani adjudged that the AC Milan midfielder had been fouled and Honda coolly hammered the ball low into the left hand of the Iraqi keeper, who had dived the wrong way.


Japan 4-0 Iraq (2015)
Keisuke Honda 5′, Tomoaki Makino 9′, Shinji Okazaki 32′, Genki Haraguchi 84′
At the Nissan Stadium in Yokohama, : Vahid Halilhodžić’s Japan inflicted the heaviest defeat in the meetings between the two sides, that was enough to dislodge Iraq’s coach Akram Salman from his post after only three games in the job. The early onslaught of goals from Honda, Makino and Okazaki saw Japan 3-0 after half an hour and Iraq missing Younis Mahmoud who was taking exams to gain his high school diploma, had no answers and conceded another goal four minutes from time. The friendly international was played under the banner of the Kirin Challenge Cup.


Japan 2-1 Iraq (2016)
Genki Haraguchi 26′, Hotaru Yamaguchi 90′ (+5);Saad Abdul-Amir 60′
In the closest run game between Japan and Iraq seen for years, Vahid Halilhodžić’s men broke the hearts of the Iraqi players and their fans with a late-late strike from Hotaru Yamaguchi in the fifth minute of stoppage time. The home side had taken the lead in controversial circumstances through Genki Haraguchi in the first half, which from television replays was clearly proved to be offside when the ball had been played by Keisuke Honda. Radhi Shanaishel’s Iraq battled back and scored their first goal against Japan in 16 years, with a header from Saad Abdul-Amir after an hour of play, but the 58,000 strong home crowd were relieved when Japan came up with a late winner and inflicted a seventh consecutive defeat on the Iraqi side.

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