Although the Iraqis have already appeared at the FIFA World Cup™ and played in four FIFA U-20 World Cups, they had never managed to qualify for the U-17 equivalent until late last year, when a last-four slot at the AFC U-16 Championship earned them a berth at UAE 2013. Despite their absence from the global stage in this age category, Iraq have nevertheless remained a force at continental level, finishing third in 1985 and fourth on two other occasions.
Iraq went into the 2012 AFC U-16 Championship in Iran brimming with confidence after finishing second at the Arab U-17 Championship earlier that same year. They kicked off the competition with successive victories over Oman and Thailand, before drawing 0-0 with Australia. The ensuing penalty shoot-out in that match saw the Iraqis come out on top, a result that secured top spot in their section. A subsequent 3-1 win over Kuwait in the quarter-finals provided the young Lions of Mesopotamia with a maiden qualification for the FIFA U-17 World Cup, despite a 5-1 reverse against Japan at the semi-final stage.
Numerous players from the current squad rose to prominence at the recent AFC U-16 and Arab U-17 Championships, including the top goalscorer and standout player at the latter competition, Sherko Lateef, as well as Samer Majeed and Salman Ali. Coach Muwaffaq Husein has also made it clear that he is not averse to bringing in new blood, recently stating, “I won’t restrict myself to the names that took part in the AFC U-16 Championship, because our loss to Japan revealed quite a few shortcomings. We’re going to try out as many players as possible ahead of the U-17 World Cup. We’ll prepare the team by competing in as many tournaments and friendly matches as we can across different continents, so that we can gauge where we are before the big event kicks off in the UAE.”