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Spain got off to an absolute flier in their last game against a New Zealand team that were simply outclassed. Spain's explosive and clinical start ended the tie in the first quarter of the game.
Iraq in contrast played out a drab and lifeless 0-0 draw with the hosts South Africa. The Iraq tactics were clearly to stifle the South Africans attacking threat and place men behind the ball.
On the face of it this match is over before it starts. The household names of Spain are a class above the national heros of Iraq. However the combative side of Iraq suggests that Spain will not have such an easy time of it. Iraq after all qualified on merit by winning the Asian Cup. A feat that is no less impressive given they qualified for the knock out stages ahead of group favourites Australia. A 3-1 victory over an experienced Australian team was one of the major shocks of the tournament. Iraq then put up a battling performance to advance past South Korea on penalties in the semi-final before beating Saudi Arabia 1-0 in a close final.
The Iraq national team have been through a lot of turmoil over the years due to political unrest and conflict at home. For a while Saddam Hussein's son was in charge of the team with rumours of cruel punishments for mistakes and poor performances on the pitch. It seems that recent changes in the Iraqi country are providing a platform for the national team to perform.
Although expectations will be for another goal fest for Spain, Iraq have demonstrated they can rise to the occasion to play against superior opposition. Although Spain are the probable winners, hopefully Iraq can continue to build on their first ever FIFA international finals point which they won against South Africa.
Players to Watch:
Fernando Torres (Spain): The quickest ever Confederations cup hat-trick in the the first game, will be looking to add to his 3 goals so far.
Younis Mahmoud (Iraq): The Iraqi captain has a real eye for goal boasting a strong scoring record internationally and domestically.
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Spain secured their place in the semi finals with a narrow 1-0 win over a determined Iraq side, maintaining their impressive record of successive victories. David Villa scored the only goal of the game early in the 2nd half with a close range header into the bottom corner, supplied with a left wing cross from Capdevilla.
Both teams made changes to their teams following the opening games. Iraq adopted a very defensive line up designed to limit space and time for Spain around the Iraqi box. Spain despite their changes fielded a strong attacking team higlighting their strength in depth.
The first half was low on quality with the Iraq tactics working well forcing Spain to be patient around the box. Villa had the best chance of the half when he vollyed wide from close range. Xabi Alonso tested the keeper with a trade mark effort from 25 yards, only to see it go straight at the keeper.
Spain started the second half much better and started to create more chances. The best of the early chances again fell to Villa who fired a close range header straight at the keeper, you'd really have expected him to score. Moments later following an Iraqi attacking freekick Spain counter attacked with Capdevilla floating a left wing cross into the box. The unmarked Villa made amends for his earlier misses and found the bottom corner with his header.
From this point the negative Iraq tactics meant Spain never really looked in danger but they lacked their usual passing creativity to find a second goal and finish the game off. Xabi Alonso again had a couple of speculative efforts from range, one well held onto by the Iraq keeper.
Mata who had been quiet during his second game for Spain had the best chance after a patient build up of intricate passing left him free in the area, but his shot was straight at the goal keeper.
Iraq had a late chance to worry Spain with Nashat firing wide late on but in truth a goal would have been a generous reward.
Although not a game for the neutrals Iraq did well and can not be blamed for playing negative tactics given Spain's previous 5-0 win. Spain did enough and deserved to win but will need a return to their clinical passing and finishing against the better sides.
Match Stats: (Stats from FIFA.com)
Spain - Iraq
Goals: 1 - 0
Shot (On traget): 12(6) - 4(1)
Offsides: 3 - 3
Corners: 6 - 1
Fouls: 14 - 13
Yellow Cards: 2 - 1
Red Cards: 0 - 0
Posession: 60 - 40