The last time Iraq lifted a major trophy was in 2007, when a Younis Mahmoud header in the 72nd minute broke through the Jakarta sky and led the Lions of Mesopotamia to their first AFC Asian Cup title.
The win against rivals Saudi Arabia sent millions of Iraqis into rapture, with football-mad fans pouring into streets around the world to celebrate the historic win. Fourteen years later, the enigmatic striker looks forward to the FIFA Arab Cup Qatar 2021, knowing very well what success in the tournament could mean for his country.
“What we did as players for the country in 2007 went beyond football. We filled the hearts of our fans with joy during a very difficult time for Iraq. Seeing how important our win was to everyone reaffirmed my belief that what happens off the pitch is sometimes more important than what happens on it,” said Mahmoud, who is now a Qatar Legacy Ambassador.
“A win during the Arab Cup would surely have a huge impact on a country that is obsessed with the sport, and with millions of Iraqis living around the world, any success the team has during the tournament will be felt far and wide,” he added.
Although the upcoming tournament will be organised under the FIFA umbrella for the first time, it has existed in a different format since 1963, with Iraq being the most successful team, winning the competition a total of four times. Set to kick off from tomorrow, the tournament will feature 16 teams from across the Arab world, with Iraq drawn in group A alongside hosts Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.
“Having won the Arab Cup more than anyone else, Iraq will look to make a mark in the 2021 edition of the tournament, and maintain their dominance. For fans from Iraq and across the region, they will also be excited to take a closer at Qatar’s preparedness to host the World Cup in a year’s time,” said Mahmoud, who will be the team director for Iraq throughout the tournament.
“Being in a group with three Gulf rivals, including Qatar, will be a difficult challenge for us, but one that we will definitely be up for. Our squad boasts many players from European leagues and the Qatar Stars League, and when combined with players from top tier clubs inside the country, they will definitely be a contender for the title,” said Mahmoud who is the most capped player for Iraq, having represented his country 148 times.
The FIFA Arab Cup Qatar 2021 will be held at six Qatar 2022 venues, including Al Bayt and Stadium 974 stadiums, which will be hosting top-level football for the first time. The top ten FIFA-ranked teams qualified to the competition automatically with the remaining six nations emerging from a series of qualifying matches played earlier this year.
“Having Arab teams from Asia take on Arab teams from Africa is always a tantalising proposition – a perfect way to give World Cup stadiums a final test run before the big tournament in 2022. With the competition being held under on an international stage for the first time, I can’t wait for fans from around the world to finally feast their eyes on the high level of football that this region has been producing for years,” said Mahmoud, who played for some of the region’s biggest clubs, including Qatari sides Al Gharafa, Al Khor and Al Sadd.
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