Though most sections at Turkey 2013 adhered to pre-tournament expectations, Group E was a notable exception. The team responsible for ripping up the script were Iraq, whose transformation from underdogs to dominant force was nothing short of extraordinary. Who, for example, would have predicted with 15 minutes remaining of their opening match, and England leading 2-0, that Hakeem Shakir’s side would top the group unbeaten and the Three Lions would finish rock bottom?
Yet England were not the only victims in this Iraqi success story. Chile, who had been slick and confident in each of their opening two matches, came unstuck against Shakir’s energetic and inventive side and were forced to settle for second. And Egypt, African champions and tipped before the tournament as potential dark horses, were essentially doomed before facing, and beating, the English in their concluding fixture. The Pharaohs had been a goal up against the Iraqis but, like Three Lions before them, were ruthlessly punished for lapses in concentration by a team no-one should underestimate in the latter stages.
Though greater successes would follow, the tone was set for Iraq’s first-round campaign – and indeed for the entire group – in the 93rd minute of their opening match. Shakir’s side had been two goals down to a seemingly dominant England side with 75 minutes on the clock but had pulled a goal back, and now, with the final seconds ticking down, were laying siege to the Samuel Johnstone’s goal.
The extent to which Iraq were pouring resources forward was underlined by the fact that it was their left back, Ali Adnan, who found himself on the byline, faced with a wall of English defenders. The odds seemed hopeless – it seemed certain the Three Lions would clear – but Adnan somehow wriggled through this mass of bodies and squeezed in a shot that squirmed under Johnstone’s body to nestle in the back of net. It was the spark for scenes of unrestrained jubilation on the pitch and in the stands, and the platform on which Iraq’s group-topping campaign was built.
Adnan himself has been a hugely influential attacking force throughout the group phase, with his adventurous overlapping style and willingness to shoot from distance a feature of Iraq’s play. There is little doubt, however, that Shakir’s star man is Mohanad Abdulraheem. The team’s strong and skilful lone forward arrived in Turkey with a burgeoning reputation, having been crowned AFC Young Player of the Year, and has fully justified his billing with a string of outstanding and highly mature showings. Elsewhere, the lively and inventive talents of attacking midfield duo Bryan Rabello and Ross Barkley often lit up the matches of Chile and England respectively, while Egypt forward Hassan Ahmed showed in flashes why he is so highly rated by fans of the Pharaohs.
5 - England have now failed to register a single win in each of their last five FIFA U-20 World Cup campaigns. The Three Lions’ winless streak, which stretches back to 1997 and was already a tournament record before Turkey 2013, now stands at a remarkable 17 matches.
“People might be shocked by Iraq at this tournament, but I’m not at all. In fact, I expect even more from my team in the games ahead. If people have been surprised so far, they should expect even bigger surprises in the future."
Hakeem Shakir, Iraq coach