No-one could accuse Iraqi forward Emad Mohammed of resting on his laurels. Currently part of his country’s bid for glory at the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2011, a competition they won in shock fashion back in 2007, the 28-year-old front-runner still dreams of playing and scoring at a FIFA World Cup™ final tournament.
“I started out at (Iraqi side) Karbala and came up through the youth ranks before joining Al Zawraa, where I made my first-team debut back in 1998/99. Things went well for me there: I went from the youth team to the reserves before breaking into the first team,” he recalled in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com from Iraq’s Asian Cup base in Doha.
Next stop for Mohammed, at the tender age of 19, was a move to Qatari heavyweights Al Gharrafa, where he enjoyed two successful seasons before a short spell at fellow Qatar outfit Al Wakra. “I’ve only positive memories of my time here,” said the experienced international.
“The highlights included winning the championship and the Qatar Cup with Al Gharrafa. I won a top scorers’ award and we even reached the final of the Crown Prince Cup. I also played for Al Wakra and reached another cup final with them. As far as results are concerned, I had no complaints.”
His stint with Al Wakra was followed by another change of scenery, this time to Iran, where Mohammed shone in the colours of first Foolad and then Sepahan. “I gained a lot of experience playing in the Iranian league and learnt a lot there,” said Mohammed, now back in Iran with Shahin Bushehr after an ill-fated summer 2010 switch to Egyptian giants Zamalek.
“(The Iranian league) is a high-quality competition which suits strong and quick players. That’s why I’ve adapted well, because I’m both quick and solidly built. Over four years I’ve scored 70 goals and won a top scorers’ award, which is no mean feat. And now I’ve been in the national team for ten years, I’m hoping to keep going onwards and upwards with Iraq.”
Indeed, it was just over ten years ago in 2000 that the striker’s brace in Iraq’s AFC U-19 Championship final victory over Japan boosted his profile on the Asian football scene. Having thus qualified for the following year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup in Argentina, Mohammed and Co opened their group campaign with a 3-0 win over Canada only to fall at the first hurdle after defeats to Brazil and Germany.
“I’ve got very good memories of that period. I earned star status and a place in the national side after my performances at youth level,” said the front-man. “We then went on to play at the U-20 World Cup and I was even part of the Iraqi Olympic squad at Athens in 2004. I remember scoring a very nice goal and helping us reach the semi-finals,” adds Mohammed, referring to his strike in the 1-0 quarter-final win over Australia.
So, how much of an impact did the FIFA U-20 World Cup, the next edition of which is set to be played in Colombia from 29 July to 20 August this year, have on his career? “It’s a special competition because it brings together teams from several different continents. That was a great moment for us.
"We came up against some of the best players in the world there and who, in certain cases, were already very experienced. Kaka and Adriano were in the Brazil side and Germany also had a lot of excellent players. It was an exceptional experience from which we learned a great deal. Every player wants to take part in World Cups and I’d love to reach another one someday.”
Quick off the mark
Not only can Mohammed boast experience of the FIFA U-20 World Cup, the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament and the FIFA Confederations Cup, but he has also written his name into the record books at the FIFA Club World Cup. While playing for Sepahan at Japan 2007, the goal-getter struck the fastest goal in the competition’s history when finding the net after just three minutes of a 3-1 win over New Zealand’s Waitakere United.
“That was great. Everybody wants to be involved in the Club World Cup and I left my mark on that tournament by scoring the fastest goal,” he said. “It’s wonderful to have played and scored at these major international competitions. These are the memories which will live longest in my mind. I hope to be able to savour other similar moments before finishing my career, and what better way to bid farewell to the Iraqi fans than by taking part at the World Cup?”
If Mohammed has one regret from his time on the international stage, it is missing out on Iraq’s triumph at the Asian Cup 2007. “I was in the side during the qualifying phase, but I was having a few problems with the Iraqi FA at the time, which is why I wasn’t involved in the finals, despite being one of the first-choice players.
“Even so, it was still fantastic to see the team win a continental title. The players really rose to the occasion. I’m hoping to help Iraq defend their crown here in Doha,” continued Mohammed, who scored in his side’s 2-1 opening Group D defeat to Iran and started the subsequent 1-0 win over UAE at Qatar 2011.
However, even with 19 January’s decisive clash against section rivals Korea DPR looming large, the striker could not help but have one eye on Brazil 2014: “My greatest ambition is still to qualify for the World Cup. I’m really determined to score at the very highest level.”