Gonzalo Rodriguez: The Iraqi Spaniard (Part 2)

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Gonzalo Rodriguez

(Part 2)

What was the missing factor which caused Iraq to not reach the final?

In football you can try to challenge and make things difficult for the opposition but I’ll be honest in this moment in time South Korea are a better team than us. This doesn’t mean we cannot beat South Korea in the future. When the Asian Cup came around the South Korean side had been together for around five years. That makes a difference. So in a semi-final where everything is so equal the smallest difference makes a huge impact.

Players came out and said it’s the fittest they’ve been under your conditioning guidance. How would you respond to club managers who criticise Iraq players as being run down when they go back to their club? Would you say your style of coaching has a detrimental effect on players’ club performances?

First of all you have to understand that most of the team don’t have a proper fitness coach. For each player to be a month or two away training for an Asian Cup is tough. Look at the players after World Cups, they are shattered. Everything is physiology but you have to respect the steps.

So what do you make of the World Cup/Asian Cup qualifying draw? Looking forward to travelling around Asia, in particular the South-East?

It’s not an easy draw. Believe me. Some people will say we are lucky but I say they’re wrong. Indonesia and Vietnam are not easy opponents. You have to take into account the travel and the difference in climate. It definitely won’t be easy. Our aim however is to finish first. All we can ask for is support from the Iraqi fans.

Indonesia has been ordered to host Iraq behind closed doors following crowd trouble in youth games. Do you think that will have an effect on the team’s performance?

You would think it would work in our favour because Indonesia won’t have their supporters. In the other hand, when you play in an empty stadium, it’s difficult to be 100% focused on the game. Anyway I do not want to make any excuses. If we want to progress then we have to be able to win away from home no matter the circumstance.

You’ll be aware the last time Iraq qualified for the World Cup was in 1986. It’s really every Iraqis dream to see the nation play in a World Cup again. How do you think our chances are in qualifying for Russia in 2018? 

If we go by history then we won’t qualify. Every win in the qualification round is a big achievement. If we don’t qualify it’s not a disaster. You have to remember we have only qualified once to the World Cup so we aren’t expected to qualify. My message to the fans is that we have a chance to do it, we are going to try to do it, support us, help us and we will see. But inshAllah we progress because I know how much it means to the people of Iraq.

How has it been so far working with Akram Salman? How does he compare to Radhi Shenaishil?

I’ve not worked with Akram for that long so I need more time before I can properly have an opinion on him. What I can say is that to work with Radhi Shenaishil was a brilliant experience. I think he is one of the best professional coaches in Asia and is able to coach in Europe if he wants to.