Dick Advocaat only spent three months as Iraq’s head coach before stepping down on Tuesday, but the Dutchman still believes the team still has a chance to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, even as the United Arab Emirates will be beaten.
After the first six matches of Group A in the last round of qualifying, Iran and South Korea virtually hold the first two places, which offer automatic places to Qatar next November, sewn together.
Iraq is in fifth place, just two points behind the third-placed United Arab Emirates, the place that offers a play-off route to the World Cup.
“We weren’t lucky with all four prints,” Advocaat told Arab News. “We should have beaten Lebanon instead of a 0-0 draw (in October), and if we had those two extra points the situation would be a little different. Losing to Iran and South Korea can always happen, but in the other games we were the better team. “
The task of leading Iraq to a first World Cup since the country’s first appearance in 1986 has now fallen to former Advocaat assistant Zeljko Petrovic, who will temporarily take charge of the team.
Three-time Netherlands manager Advocaat believes his former team, the United Arab Emirates, are the only ones to beat for Iraq.
“The Emirates are the best in the group besides Korea and Iran and I think they will finish third. But Iraq still have four games to go, so you never know. There is talent in the team, ”he said.
Being in charge of Iraq was at times a frustrating experience for the widely traveled tactician who was based in Europe until the games were played in the Iraqi temporary home in Qatar.
“It was always very shortly before the game,” said the former boss of Belgium, Russia and Serbia. “We arrived together on Sunday and the game is Thursday. The players were good and the mentality was good, but it takes more time and training to get the team to where we wanted to be. But, then, at the same time, you have to get results immediately. They are in a period of transition. I can only say positive things about the people there, even though they expect you to win almost every game, which is not always possible. “
Getting to know the players was a challenge.
“I only went to the Middle East for the games. My two assistants were still there, ”Advocaat said. “When I started I saw all the videos, but you can only see the quality when you see the players in front of you. The defense and the midfielder were OK, but in attack we didn’t have the quality that we needed and that’s why we had so many draws. “
There were also accusations that coaching staff gave the 74-year-old incorrect information about the availability or willingness of some overseas-based players to represent the Mesopotamian Lions.
“I totally disagree with that,” Advocaat said. “The staff were great, and I have very good eyes as a coach and I can quickly see if the players have the quality or the right attitude or not. I brought in new players from Sweden and from Sweden. England, and I didn’t see any problem with the players. ”
However, there is still work to be done before Iraq can return to the top of the continental table.
“The level of local competition is unfortunately not that high. The good thing is that there are three matches in the Arab Cup where they can try young players. This is important because the U-23 team have done very well and they can use it in the future. “
Advocaat, who was in charge of South Korea at the 2006 World Cup, added: “People in the federation know what to do. Teams like South Korea are so far away, and Iraq needs to change a lot to catch up. They need fierce competition, better pitches, coaches, etc. If they keep working, it will happen. “
Maybe not during Advocaat’s career, however. Former PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord boss has come out of retirement to take the job, but while there may not be many more teams to deal with, he’s not quite ready just yet to return to the quiet life.
“I’m 74 now and have learned not to say ‘this is my last job’. But I will no longer work in a club. “