Australia wary of Iraq threat

No one in the Socceroos camp is playing down the threat of Iraq in Thursday night’s World Cup qualifier.

Not when the prize is so great, and the margin for error so fine.

The Socceroos are assembling in Perth before Thursday night’s clash, which begins the final group stage on the long road to Russia.

Alex Gersbach will complete the 23-man squad when he arrives on Tuesday night, with fellow left-back Brad Smith predicting a “very difficult” challenge.

“Once he’s in we’ll do team meetings and video sessions on what we need to work on and how we can take them down to get the win,” he said.

“The first game is very important to get under way and get a good result.

“It’ll be one of the tougher games in the group so we need to make sure were ready.”

Iraq were Asian Cup semi-finalists in 2015, the tournament won by the Socceroos on home soil.

In the visiting squad is former A-League player Ali Abbas, as well as another familiar face to two Socceroos.

Yaser Karim, a dangerous attacking midfielder, is a former teammate of Smith and Massimo Luongo at English club Swindon Town.

Bizarrely, Iraq are the more settled nation in Western Australia.

The bulk of the Lions side arrived well before the almost solely overseas-based Socceroos and drew a behind-closed-doors friendly with Perth Glory 2-2 last week.

Luongo enjoyed just a few hours sleep after arriving in Perth early on Tuesday morning.

He said his club manager – Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink at Queens Park Rangers – quietly suggested staying in London might be easier.

“I don’t think many club managers like the idea of international duty. He does give a few little hints that he wants me to stay,” he said.

“It’s a big thing for me.

“All my focus is on the Australian team and getting over what jet lag I have.”

Smith, who will win a 10th cap if he plays on Thursday, said finding the motivation for intercontinental travel was easy when the lure was playing in a World Cup.

“That’d be the best thing, the best thing in my career,” he said.

“It’s what you dream of as a boy … we have a very good squad and we can do it.

Two sides from the six-team qualifying group – containing Australia, Japan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Thailand – are guaranteed a place in Russia.

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