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Iraq boss eyes semi-final place

Shaker hopes to see off Kuwait to secure Gulf Cup progress

Gulf News

Manama: Boss Hakim Shaker is hoping to keep the spirit in the Iraq camp high by adding Kuwait to their list of 2013 Gulf Cup scalps on Wednesday night, having already beaten Saudi Arabia 2-0 in their opening Group B match on Sunday.

Iraq share the lead in the pool with ten-times champions Kuwait, who also overcame a tricky opener 2-0 against Yemen on Sunday. And the 2007 Asian Cup champions can confirm their progress to the semi-finals if they overcome the current holders at Khalifa Stadium from 5.15pm on Wednesday.

“The positive start to the tournament with victory over Saudi gives us the momentum to continue and we hope to be one of the first teams to reach the semi-finals from the second match,” Shaker said.

“Saudi are one of the biggest teams in the region and in Asia and, when you beat a team that has much better facilities and resources, it gives you immense pleasure. We hope for a continuation of that happiness against Kuwait.

“Kuwait has a very strong and distinguished team with a prestigious history in this competition. We have to work realistically against them and with confidence in order to meet the expectations of our fans. We’ll always work hard to bring happiness to the Iraqi people.”

Of the fact Kuwait struggled to overcome Yemen, Shaker, whose team will meet the Gulf Cup minnows in their final group game on Saturday, said: “Never underestimate Yemen. They played a tough match against a difficult opponent in Kuwait and, but for a bit of luck, they could have won.”

Meanwhile, Kuwait coach Goran Tufegdzic said he was most wary of Iraq’s aerial threat after they beat Saudi with two set-piece goals. “After Yemen, Iraq will be another tough match for us,” he said.

“Every time their danger comes from the air and high balls, so maybe this will be a problem for us. At the same time Iraq know we play a passing game with the ball down on the ground. Iraq have style and experienced players who know how to get a result.

“But the team spirit and energy we showed when we beat Yemen is a strong motivator for our players to go forward and get another result.”