Iraq can pride themselves on having taken part in the inaugural FIFA World Youth Championship in Tunisia in 1977. Coached by the Yugoslav Nedrag Stankovic, they went out in the group phase after beating Austria and losing to the Soviet Union and Paraguay. The Iraqis did not return to the finals until Saudi Arabia 1989, when Anwar Jassam steered them to the last eight, their best ever performance. They reached the quarters after beating Argentina, Spain and Norway to win their group, but were then knocked out by USA. After missing the next five world finals in the category they reappeared under coach Adnan Hamed at Argentina 2001, going out at the first hurdle following victory over Canada and defeats to Brazil and Germany.
It cannot be said that Iraq do not deserve their place at Turkey 2013, having battled their way to the final of the AFC U-19 Asian Championship under Hakim Shakir. They began their superb run in fine style, topping a group that contained three former continental champions and then going on to beat Japan 2-1 in the last eight, a result that secured them a place in the world finals. An impressive semi-final performance against Australia set up a meeting with Korea Republic in the final, and though the Iraqis took the lead in the showpiece match, they were eventually pegged back before losing out on penalties.
The job of qualifying now complete, Shakir can now concentrate on preparing his side for the challenge that lies ahead in Turkey. After securing maximum points in the group phase at the Asian finals, Shakir’s side surprised many by surging all the way to the final, and the coach is once again banking on his players to do the seemingly impossible and achieve yet more success, in spite of the many problems the country continues to face.
|12||MOHAMMED JABBAR AREBAT|
|10||MOHAMMED JABBAR SHWKAN|