The Indian national football team are set to return to action on Thursday as they face Iraq in the first semi-final of the King’s Cup at the 700th Anniversary Stadium in Thailand.

Ranked 70th in the FIFA rankings, Iraq are the highest-ranked team in the 49th edition of the King’s Cup. The competition also features Thailand and Lebanon, who will compete in the second semi-final later on Thursday.

The Lions of Mesopotamia boasts a well-balanced squad, featuring a blend of seasoned veterans and youthful talents. Their experienced players are currently in peak form, which positions them as the strongest team on paper and potentially the biggest threat to India in this competition.

As the Blue Tigers prepare for a litmus test on Thursday, let’s take a closer look at the Iraq national football team.


The Iraq national football team is under the jurisdiction of the Iraq Football Association, which was established in October 1948. The Lions of Mesopotamia officially became FIFA members in 1950 and marked their debut match in April 1951 with a resounding 5-0 victory over the Civil Cantonment (CC) team of Habbaniyah.

Their first international match resulted in a thrilling 3-3 draw against Morocco in October 1957. Over the years, Iraq steadily established themselves as a respected team, not only in Asia but also on the global stage. In 1986, Iraq made their sole appearance in the FIFA World Cup after a strong performance in the qualifiers, although they faced three defeats in the group stage.

Iraq have participated in the AFC Asian Cup nine times, with their most remarkable achievement occurring in 2007 when they clinched the title, defeating formidable opponents such as Australia, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia.

The team have also excelled in regional competitions, securing the Arabian Gulf Cup title on four occasions, including their recent triumph earlier this year. In addition to these accolades, Iraq claimed victory in the WAFF Championship in 2002, secured the Asian Games gold medal in 1982, emerged victorious in the Merdeka Tournament twice in 1981 and 1995, and clinched the Nehru Cup title twice during the 1990s.

Form Guide

Iraq have displayed incredible form in 2023, particularly in the Arabian Gulf Cup. Out of the seven matches they've played this year, five were part of the Arabian Gulf Cup tournament. Their campaign began with a goalless draw against Oman, followed by a remarkable run of four consecutive victories, ultimately securing them their fourth Arabian Gulf Cup title.

Along the way, they defeated strong teams like Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen to reach the final, where they triumphed over Oman with a thrilling 3-2 scoreline.

However, in their most recent international matches, both of which were friendlies, Iraq faced defeat. They suffered a 2-0 loss against Russia and a narrow 1-0 defeat against Colombia.

Head-to-Head Record

The Lions of Mesopotamia have maintained a strong head-to-head record against the Blue Tigers. In the six encounters between these teams, Iraq has emerged victorious five times, including a win in a penalty shootout during the semi-final of the Nehru Cup in 1997. The other meeting ended in a draw, while India are still in pursuit of their first victory.

Their most recent clash occurred in an international friendly in 2010, with Iraq securing a 2-0 win. The only draw between the two sides took place during the 1995 Nehru Cup when the match concluded with a 1-1 scoreline.

Key Players

Aymen Hussein

Hussein undeniably poses the most significant threat to the Blue Tigers' defence. The 27-year-old forward, who plies his trade for the Moroccan club Raja Casablanca, boasts an impressive record, having notched 14 goals in 62 appearances for Iraq since his debut in 2015.

He is the classic number 9 who is known for his ability to command the opponent's box with his physical presence and cause problems with his clinical finishing in the final third. With three goals to his name, Hussein was the joint-top scorer of the 2023 Arabian Gulf Cup. The Indian defence will definitely have a challenging task stopping the movement of this player.

Ibrahim Bayesh

Midfielder Bayesh is one of the promising stars of the Iraqi national side, currently playing club football for Al-Quwa Al-Jawyia. The 23-year-old is a versatile footballer who prefers to operate in the opposition half, and he can also play out wide when required.

Bayesh is an explosive player, known for creating openings and making intelligent runs in the final third. He also has a fondness for scoring goals. The midfielder has already made 40 appearances for Iraq and has contributed six goals to their tally.

Bayesh was named the best player in the 2023 Arabian Gulf Cup, in addition to being the top scorer alongside his teammate Hussein.

Hussein Ali Al-Saedi

Capable of playing as an attacking midfielder as well as a winger, Al-Saedi is another threat in Iraq’s attack. The creative midfielder is known for his versatility and for causing havoc near the penalty area.

The 26-year-old boasts a significant physical presence, giving his all on the pitch. He can dribble past every player on the opposing team and can either finish decisively past the keeper or find space and pick out a teammate.

Match Details

Fixture: Iraq vs India

Date: September 7

Time: 4:00 PM

Venue: 700th Anniversary Stadium, Thailand.

Telecast: Eurosport and FIFA Plus TV.