Argentina, without Lionel Messi, will go head to head against Iraq in a friendly clash at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium on Thursday night.

Argentina will look to build some momentum ahead of their encounter against rivals Brazil next week, with a victory against Asian nation Iraq.

Following their disappointing FIFA World Cup campaign, Argentina have appointed Lionel Scaloni as their caretaker manager, with Pablo Aimar as his assistant. The duo led the Albiceleste to a 3-0 win over Guatemala last month, which was followed by a goalless draw against fellow South American nation Colombia.

Argentina have been on the winning side in just two of their last six games. With an encounter against arch rivals Brazil on the horizon, it will be important for Scaloni’s men to pick up a victory and build some steam heading into the big game next Tuesday.

Iraq, on the other hand, come into the game on the back of a five-match unbeaten streak, although they have won just one of those five fixtures. The last time the Usood Al-Rafidain were in action was in September, when they were held to a 2-2 draw by Kuwait.

It will only be manager Srečko Katanec’s second game in-charge of the Iraqi national team and he will have a tough task at his hands competing against a giant like Argentina, even without star man Lionel Messi in the side.

Team News & Tactics

Iraq

Katanec has picked a number of talented young players in his 23-man squad for the upcoming friendly matches against Argentina and Saudi Arabia. There is not a single player in the roster over the age of 30 years, with 17-year-old striker Mohammed Dawood earning his first ever call-up to the international setup.

The manager set his team up in a 4-2-3-1 setup in his debut game against Kuwait last month and is likely to go in with a similar formation for Argentina’s visit on Thursday.

In goal will be captain Jalal Hassan, who will have his task cut out against a quality attack. Ahmad Ibrahim, who is the most-capped player in the squad with 77 appearances, will be one of the two centre-backs that will take the field. Partnering him will be dead-ball specialist Ali Faez.

At left-back, Ali Adnan, who plies his trade for Serie A side Atalanta is likely to start. On the opposite side, it will be Alaa Mhawi, who had scored an own goal against Kuwait. Amjad Attwan will be the designated defensive midfielder, who will try and screen his backline. Occupying the second pivot position in the middle of the park will be Mahdi Kamil.

The young Hussein Ali will slot in on the right-flank and look to pose a few problems for the visitors, while Osama Rashid, who has scored and assisted three goals apiece in the Portuguese top-flight for Santa Clara should start in the No.10 role. On the left-flank will be seasoned campaigner Ahmed Yasin, who has six goals in 56 matches for the national team.

18-year-old Mohanad Ali has already bagged four goals in just six international appearances for Iraq and should spearhead the attack against the South American giants.

Probable Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Hassan; Mhawi, Ibrahim, Faez, Adnan; Kamil, Attwan; Hussein Ali, Rashid, Yasin; Mohanad Ali;

Argentina

Lionel Messi’s hiatus from international football continues, after the dismal World Cup campaign. Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria continue to be absent as well, despite being in good form for AC Milan and PSG respectively, while Sergio Aguero also does not make the cut.

Scaloni has been hit with a spate of injuries heading into the game as Exequiel Palacios, Gonzalo Martinez, Alan Franco, Cristian Pavon and Franco Armani have all been ruled out for the upcoming fixtures. Uncapped goalkeeper Guido Herrera has been drafted in as a replacement for Armani. Rodrigo de Paul and Juan Foyth are the other uncapped players in the squad.

Keeping the Brazil game in mind, the manager is likely to rest some of his key players on Thursday night. Scaloni trained with a 4-3-1-2 formation before the game and is likely to use that setup against Iraq. Real Sociedad goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli hasn’t been in the best of forms for his club, but should get the nod in goal ahead of Sergio Romero.

Fabricio Bustos is likely to start at right-back while Marcos Acuna is poised to take the field on the opposite side, ahead of captain Nicolas Tagliafico. In the heart of the defence it will be German Pezzella and former Everton man Ramiro Funes Mori, with Nicolas Otamendi likely to be held back for the Brazil game.

27-year old Rodrigo Battaglia will anchor the three-man midfield for Argentina on Thursday. Roberto Pereyra, who has been in fine form for Watford this season, is likely to start along with Franco Vazquez. The duo will be in-charge of providing the forward impetus from the centre of the park.

Juventus superstar Paulo Dybala will slot in the hole behind the two strikers and look to pull the strings in the final third of the pitch. Talented youngsters Lautaro Martinez and Giovanni Simeone are likely to start as the strikers ahead of Mauro Icardi, with the Brazil game coming up.

Probable Starting XI (4-3-1-2): Rulli; Bustos, Pezzella, Funes Mori, Acuna; Pereyra, Battaglia, Vazquez; Dybala; Martinez, Simeone; 

Key Stats

  • This will be the first meeting between Argentina and Iraq. The Asian nation did play against the South Americans U-23 side in the 1984 Merlion Cup and had emerged victorious.
  • In their nine fixtures in 2018, Argentina have managed to win four times, while ending up on the losing side on three occasions. In these nine matches, the Albiceleste have scored 16 goals and have let in 15 goals.
  • Iraq haven’t lost a single game since their 2-3 defeat to Qatar back in March earlier this year. However, they have won just one of their five games after that – a 3-0 victory over Palestine in August.
  • In the current Argentina squad that Scaloni has picked, rather bizarrely, Nicolas Otamendi has the most number of international goals (4). Funes Mori, Leandro Paredes, Giovanni Lo Celso, Angel Correa and Simeone are next on the list with just one strike against their names.

Player to watch

Paulo Dybala (Argentina)

The future of Argentine football? Paulo Dybala will want to take this chance in the absence of Messi and Aguero to stake his claim in the national side. (Photo courtesy: AFP/Getty)

The future of Argentine football (Photo courtesy: AFP/Getty)

It has been three years since the 24-year-old made his international debut for Argentina. 14 games later, Dybala is yet to open his goalscoring account for the national team. Having found himself in the shadows of Messi, Aguero et al., the Juventus star now has his chance to take the centre stage as La Albiceleste look to kickstart a new era.

So far in the 2018-19 season, Dybala has managed to find the back of the net on four occasions in 8 matches across all competitions. He will be keen on making a statement on Thursday, as he looks to establish himself as the main man of this new look Argentine side.

Prediction

Iraq 0-2 Argentina

Iraq may not have been beaten in their previous five matches, but coming up against a side of Argentina’s calibre will be a huge step up for them.

The South American heavyweights haven’t been at their best of late and are without a number of star players, but they have enough quality in the ranks to see of the Iraqi national team at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium on Thursday night. An easy victory on the cards for the Albiceleste.