Mohammed Emad: "We'll win for Iraqi people"
Mohammed Emad has emerged as one of Iraq's key figures after match-winning displays in back-to-back victories over Portugal and Costa Rica at the Men's Olympic Football Tournament in Greece.
Emad was the star of the show in the opening match against the Portuguese, creating mayhem in front of the South Europeans' goal with his pacy build-up play and getting his name on the scoresheet in a famous 4-2 victory, heralding the arrival of Iraq as a force at the Games.
"We've all played very well, and I reckon we've deserved a place in the last eight," Emad told FIFA.com after his side's first two matches. Emad and his team-mates travelled to Athens for the 2-0 victory over Costa Rica but have now returned to their original quarters in Patras, where they are busily preparing for the upcoming meeting with Morocco. "We're incredibly proud of qualifying for the quarter-finals," the 22-year-old says, "after all, we were drawn in a tough group. Portugal are one of the best teams in Europe, and you can never write off Costa Rica and Morocco."
With a place in the last eight already assured, little is at stake for the Iraqis against Morocco, but the surprise package of the tournament are remaining focused as they still need a point to win the group. "No, we have to win, we want to top the group and avoid Argentina in the quarter-finals," Emad confirms.
Victory is Morocco's only hope of making the last eight: they currently lie third in Group D with just a single point, and even if they overcome Iraq, the North Africans need the right result in Heraklion where Portugal meet Costa Rica. If Portugal win, Morocco go out.
Understandably, the Iraqis are in a relaxed frame of mind, revelling in the vociferous support of a surprisingly large group of travelling fans. "We're delighted by the support we've had both in Patras and Athens," Emad confirms. The people in Iraq have little to celebrate at the present time, so victories at an international tournament are hailed as major triumphs. "Our people love football," the striker explains, desperately hoping to spread a little joy back home, "when we win, we go out and win for the Iraqi people."
Naturally, the players stand to benefit personally from a continuation of their winning run, as the Olympic Football Tournament has a showcase character. The big names in club football pay close attention to the goings-on, and Iraq's stylish success will not have gone unnoticed among the scouting fraternity. Emad and many of his team-mates dream of a professional career in Europe: "Egyptians, Iranians, Moroccans and Tunisians are already there, but Iraqi players haven't had a chance to make it in Europe yet," the talismanic striker explains, "but here we are at the Olympics, and I reckon it's a good place to show what we can do."
Emad, currently on the books at Al Itihad in Qatar, believes switching to a big name outfit would help both the players and the national team. "You've got coaches and scouts from all over the place watching us, so I reckon it's a great chance to find a home in European professional football somewhere. If we had the chance to play for a big club we'd definitely improve our skills."
However, for the time being the focus is on Morocco and the quarter-finals, where Iraq could face Australia. "We were well prepared for this tournament, and now we've set ourselves the target of finishing in the top four," the 22-year-old declares. But for Mohammed Emad, sport is by no means the most important thing. "It would be nice to think we could bring the people in Iraq closer together through football. We'd love to put smiles on people's faces."