x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Iraq Under 17 World Cup diary: Monday, October 21

Omar Al Raisi, team liaison officer for Iraq during the U17 World Cup will be speaking to The National on their activities and impressions during the tournament.

Mohammed Salam and Iraq will hope to improve on their outing against Sweden when they face Mexico. Stuart Franklin / Fifa via Getty Images
Mohammed Salam and Iraq will hope to improve on their outing against Sweden when they face Mexico. Stuart Franklin / Fifa via Getty Images

Omar Al Raisi is the team liaison officer for Iraq during the U17 World Cup. He will report on their activities and impressions during the tournament.

A disappointing result against a modest Swedish side was hard to swallow. The dressing room was silent, with players and managers frustrated to lose a game they could have won 3-1, instead of the other way around. But dwelling on the past is pointless, and the focus now is on a must-win match with Mexico tonight.

Preparations resumed the next day, the players divided into two groups: the first XI did recovery sessions and those who did not start had a full training session.

The rise of age-group football in Iraq the past few years is astonishing, considering the decade of war and turmoil there. They say it has encouraged them – Sunnis, Shias and Kurds, together – to work even harder.

“This topic is a very sensitive topic and the players and team will not be very comfortable to talk about this directly,” said Zeyad Hamid, the head of international relations for the Iraq Football Association.

“To be honest, I don’t know which players are what. We don’t really care. We are all together, we are one, we are Iraq. We play for our country as one.”

After a press conference on Monday with the coach Mwafaq Zaidan Adlool and the player Sherko Kareem, the team had a 90-minute training session at the UAE University pitch.

After training, the delegation, management and players watched and analysed Mexico’s game with Nigeria.

The coach pointed out Mexico’s weak points and also their strengths.

The players were very happy with the reception they received from more than 400 Iraq fans who travelled to Al Ain from Dubai and Sharjah; they never stopped singing until the final whistle.

“I want to thank the fans,” said Bashar Bonyan, a midfielder. “My mum told me that the reaction was negative at home in Baghdad after we lost and their hopes are not very high, but they will support us until we are home.”

Kareem, one of Iraq’s top players, had a difficult night against Sweden, but was encouraged by his mother that he will score.

“The fans back home are following us,” he said. “They watch us in cafes or at home. My family watched our game at home. My mum said the other players did not pass the ball to me, but I can say it was me who was not passing the ball,” he said with a grin.

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