Baghdad (IraqiNews.com) Traditionally, the Iraqi squad has been dominated by home-based talent. But the 2015 version has seen a considerable increase in players picked from outside of Iraq. With the inclusions of United States-born Justin Meram, Swindon Town player Yaser Kasim and Sweden-based Ahmed Yaseen, Iraqi football is entering a new era. Apart from that trio, players from Iraqi Premier League champions Al Shorta Sports Club dominate the Asian Cup squad, with nine of the 23 players hailing from the Baghdad giants.
Younus Mahmood is the one Iraqi player about whom everyone in Asia still talks, for it was his goal in the 2007 AFC Asian Cup final in Jakarta that gave Iraq a 1-0 victory over Saudi Arabia. At his prime eight years ago, he turns 32 just after the Sydney final and is now without a club since leaving Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ahli in 2013.
Injuries have slowed Mahmood — he missed the Gulf Cup in November with a leg problem — but as Iraq’s captain and most accomplished forward, he showed glimpses of his best in the team’s opening 1-0 victory against Jordan.
Mahmood, at the Asian Cup 2015 draw in Sydney, paid tribute to the Iraqi fans, saying they would not be fazed by the prospect of travelling up and down the east coast of Australia to support the team during the tournament. “Our people travel across continents to support their country,” he said, “so crossing state borders is nothing for our fans.”
One of the hundreds of supporters who have travelled from Sydney to Brisbane to support the team is Saif Jari, born in Iraq but now an Australian citizen.
“I love football and Iraq is the country of my birth, I have to support Iraq. But I also support Australia, as this is my home now” Jari said.
After the match against Japan, Iraq finish their Group D campaign against Palestine in Canberra on Tuesday. Palestine are the latest fairy-tale story of the Asian Cup, and the Iraqis can relate to many of the challenges Palestine have had to overcome. But the Lions of Mesopotamia will put sentimentality aside as they look to replicate their Asian Cup heroics of 2007. /End/