(Reuters) – Iraq may ask United States-born striker Justin Meram to rethink his decision not to join up with the squad for their World Cup qualifier against Saudi Arabia next week.
With the Iraqis’ qualifier against Australia on Thursday being played in Tehran due to long-standing security concerns in Iraq, Meram decided not to accept last week’s call-up.
Earlier this month, U.S. President Donald Trump issued an executive order temporarily banning the entry of travelers from six Muslim-majority countries, including Iran.
Saudi Arabia is not on the list, and with several Iraqi players at risk of picking up suspensions against Australia, officials at the Iraq FA hope Meram will change his mind and travel to Jeddah for the game on March 28.
“We talked to the team’s head coach in this regard two days ago,” a team spokesman told Reuters.
“He has not made a final decision, but he may recall him because 11 players currently with the team have been cautioned in previous matches and the coach fears maybe one or more of them will receive another yellow card that will suspend them for the match against Saudi Arabia.”
Meram, who was born in Michigan to Iraqi parents, had said in an earlier statement on his Instagram page that he would not participate in the qualifiers due to reasons beyond his control.
“I have spoken with our manager, Radhi Shenaishil, and I appreciate his, and the IFA’s, understanding of my difficult situation,” he wrote.
“This is certainly not a permanent break from the national team and I look forward to representing my country again in the future.”
Iraq are trying to qualify for the World Cup finals for the first time since 1986 but have picked up just one win in their opening five games and are in fourth place in their group.
They trail joint-leaders Saudi Arabia and Japan by seven points with five games remaining. Only two teams qualify automatically for Russia 2018, with the third-placed team entering into playoffs.
(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Peter Rutherford)