Iraqi aces hail 12th man
Fans can play a part in deciding football matches. Iraq can certainly vouch for this, having been thrust to an AFC Asian Cup 2007 conquest by their loyal followers.
Although Bora Milutinovic has talented players such as Nashat Akram, Younis Mahmoud and Hawar Mulla Mohammed at his disposal, he will be counting upon the side's proverbial 12th man to make a difference again at the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009, as they attempt to belie their status as underdogs.
"Iraq fans previously showed that they are always behind us to support the team," said Akram, who was greeted by a group of South African supporters at Ruimsig Stadium, where the team trained, yesterday. "We receive daily calls from people in Iraq and we have been told that all Iraq are waiting for this tournament to begin."
"This means big responsibility for us towards our people and our country," added the 24-year-old, who recently joined Dutch Eredivisie runners-up Twente. "I personally hope that we can have a good performance like we did in Athens 2004 and the 2007 Asian Cup.
"It is very hard to promise our fans to go far in the tournament because it is the FIFA Confederations Cup and the best eight teams from the world are playing here. However, our promise is that we will perform well and bring joy to our fans as we did previously."
Representing the continent
Iraq captain Mahmoud said that they will try to regain the form with which they won the Asian crown two years ago, when he scored the winning goal in the final against Saudi Arabia. "Playing in the FIFA Confederations Cup has a different taste from any other competition because this is the first time that Iraq will play in such a tournament," he said. "Iraqi fans always supported us regardless of any upset and they will be behind us this time around. I hope that we can regain the trust of our fans which they showed after the 2007 AFC Asian Cup. Some pundits said that there are critical problems in our team but there are no problems at all and it's only a dip in performance."
"In addition to the fans, our motivation is that we are playing in a big tournament which will be followed by the entire world. We want to show a good representation of Iraqi football, but as the Asian champions we are also representing our continent, so I hope we are up to this big challenge."
Hawar Mulla Mohammed added: "Our secret weapon is our fans. We must give something to our people. We brought joy to our people back in 2007 when we won the Asian Cup, and hopefully this time we can also pull a surprise or two and bring joy not only to the Iraqi people but to all of Asia."