Iraq's last participation in a FIFA tournament, the 1986 World Cup, ended with zero points. This time, however, Iraq managed to gain two points but this was not enough for them to qualify to the semi-finals.
Iraq came into the tournament under highly successful Serbian coach Bora Milutinovic, and his view seemed to be that defence was the best form of attack. Iraq played a very good tournament defensively, only conceding one goal in their 3 games. However, they didn't manage to score a single goal. This is ultimately the reason why they missed out on the top two spots in the group, which went to Spain and the hosts, the only team not to have to qualify for the tournament, South Africa.
GAME 1 - SOUTH AFRICA 0-0 IRAQ
Iraq faced the hosts in game one of the competition, which perhaps goes down as the worst game of the entire tournament. The first half was very even with both teams starting very nervously. They both looked too scared to concede, which is why the game ended 0-0. South Africa managed the best effort of the half with a long range shot that was expertly saved by Mohammed Gassid in the Iraqi goal. The second-half, however, was mostly all South Africa. The ever-negative coach Milutinovic must have told his players to defend even more than they had been at half time, which seemed impossible, but the Iraqis achieved it. They rarely ventured out of their half for the entire 45 minutes. Iraq would have easily lost the game had it not been for a string of absolute brilliant saves to deny the hosts several great chances by 'keeper Gassid. Then, right at the end, Gassid made his first mistake of the match by missing a catch on a cross. This left South Africa with an open goal. Well, almost open, however their own player blocked the goal-bound effort of the line and Iraq escaped with a point but none of the plaudits on the world stage.
GAME 2 - SPAIN 1-0 IRAQ
The second game against Spain was the only game in which Iraq conceded and the only one they lost, however it was the only game that they gained any plaudits for. Iraq defended magnificently throughout the game. The number one ranked team in the world managed to muster only one good chance in the first half and ended the half without any shots on target. The second half was mostly the same apart from the one goal for Spain scored by David Villa. Iraq even had a some chances to level the game late on. In a group where goal difference could have been a big factor, a 1-0 loss to the European champions was an acceptable result.
GAME 3 - IRAQ 0-0 NEW ZEALAND
Onto the final game, the one that all Iraqis had put down as a win before the tournament had started, New Zealand. They had never managed to earn a point in this tournament before and if Spain beat South Africa 3-0, all Iraq had to do was win to progress to the semi-final. Spain won the game 2-0, which meant Iraq needed a 2-0 win. However, despite knowing this was a must win game, apart from a glorious chance missed by Younis Mahmoud, who had an appalling tournament, Iraq were defending for the whole half as New Zealand made them look like a pub team. It was as if all they knew how to do was defend; even when they needed to score they defended. This mentality in Milutinovic's regime was the exact opposite of the old Iraq, whose mentality was to forget defending and just score more than the opposition. This attitude would have gained Iraq more plaudits.
It seemed like Milutinovic made it clear at half time that Iraq might have to actually score a goal to win the game, so they came out fighting. Iraq totally dominated the second half and spurnded numerous great chances to win it. Ultimately, their failure to take any of these resulted in them finishing third and missing out on a semi final place.
If Iraq had played like they did in the second half against New Zealand in the previous games, the story may have been different. But, as it is, the tournament was a nice experience for the people of Iraq and a good experience for the squad which will help them mature, and it is another milestone achieved in Iraq's footballing history.