The Iraqi team comes into the Confederations Cup as surprise champions of Asia, and will be underdogs in all of their matches. The Iraqis are not willing to let that stop them.
In front of a near capacity crowd of South Africans screaming for their beloved Bafana Bafana at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg on Sunday, the Iraqi team found itself in somewhat uncomfortable circumstances.
It was the opening match of the 2009 Confederations Cup, and the fans were eager to see the host nation claim victory over the Asian champions, considered to be perhaps the weakest team at the tournament.
But the Iraqis had other plans, and played a cunning match, incorporating delay tactics and slowing down the pace of the game, much to the chagrin of the South African fans. The match ended in a scoreless draw, with the two teams each taking one point.
Defender Nashat Akram said after the game that the tie fits into the Iraqi plans of earning second place in the four team group, and the semifinal berth that comes with it.
"We have one target and that's to get through to the second round," he said. "We have two games more. Today we are taking one point and we have two games more. We will show we are doing our best."
Iraqis are pleased
Unlike the South African fans, who were disappointed with their team's inability to secure a victory to punctuate the pageantry and jubilance of the tournament's opening day, Akram says Iraqis are already pleased that the side has advanced this far.
"I think they are so happy," he said. "Because you know, this is the first time Iraq is playing in high competition. Only one time we played - in 1986 - in the World Cup. And so this is the second time we are playing at a high level."
Veteran coach aiming for semi-finals
The Iraqi team plays under veteran coach Bora Milutinovic, who has now coached on five different continents, and guided teams in four different World Cups, including the USA when it hosted the tournament in 1994.
Milutinovic, a Serb who lives in Mexico and gives his press conferences in broken Spanish, is looking forward to Wednesday's second match against the world's top ranked team, Spain.
Milutinovic says any victory at the Confederations Cup would mean a lot to the Iraqi people, and that success could be defined as making it through to the semi-finals.
Iraq takes on group leader Spain at Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on Wednesday. In the other Group A clash in Rustenburg, host South Africa will hope for their first victory when they take on new Zealand, which was thrashed by Spain in the opening match, 5-0.