The incredible international football success of Iraq

Callum Farrell considers one of the most remarkable stories in international football - Iraq.

The English national team has come up with every excuse imaginable in order to deflect the blame for embarrassing defeats.

We are told that the press put too much pressure on them, the Premier League doesn’t give them enough time to rest, they are overwhelmed by their national stadium, they don’t gel properly, the game in this country is too fast paced or the fans have unrealistic expectations.

However, one national team has had to deal with the trauma of a continuing war which has lasted nearly a decade, has conservatively estimated to have lost one hundred thousand nationals, still continues to be under occupation and regularly suffers horrific acts of violence at the hands of terrorists.

Yet they haven’t had to use a single excuse due to a decade of continued success. That country is Iraq.

Since their invasion on the 20th March 2003 the national team has managed to accumulate an AFC Asian Cup in 2007 (after a quarterfinal appearance in 2004), a gold and silver medal in the West Asian Games in 2005 and the Asian Games in 2006 and appearances in the Olympic Games and Confederations Cup.

Like many of the England national football team, the Iraqi national team are based mostly in their home country.

In their most recent game against Indonesia the squad (with an average age of twenty two) had nineteen of the twenty three members of the match day squad playing in the Iraqi Premier League.

The Premier League has remained in operation despite the war and has had to deal with periods of uncertainty when teams competing in the capital, Baghdad, couldn’t coordinate matches due to the violence that was occurring almost daily.

The squad are of an age where they will all have experienced the intense warfare and political unrest at the beginning of the Iraq War but have still managed to develop their technique and come together, despite all their cultural and religious differences, to create a successful national team who have dominated their region and are ranked 89th in the FIFA rankings.

Iraq are currently being managed by former Serbian national team coach Vladimir Petrovic who has taken over at a period of success for the team, having finished runners up in the WAFF Championship and the Gulf Cup.

It will be Petrovic’s job to get the team to the World Cup in Brazil, which would be their first appearance in the competition since 1986.

The dark days of the Hussein regime running the country’s FA and players competing in fear with the threat of torture and death by the governing body are thankfully over.

It has allowed the squad to play with a new found freedom and unite one of the world’s most divided countries with their love of football.

Although there is a long way to go before life in Iraq gets back to normal and hostilities end, their national team is certainly leading by example and giving the nation something to be truly proud of.

image: © aheram

FIFA World Cup 2018FIFA 2018 World Cup Russia - click here for all of our coverage...

Register for HITC Sport - Daily Dispatch