When a three-year-old Ahmed Yasin left Iraq with his family to start a new life in Sweden, the idea that he would one day pull on the football shirt of his homeland might have seemed somewhat far-fetched. But more than 20 years after his birth in 1991, he recently made his debut for the Asian nation as they strive to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
Yasin began kicking a ball around just two years after his arrival in Scandinavia. His seemingly natural talent saw him sign for BK Forward in 2007. After gradually establishing himself with the modest Swedish side, he moved across the city to join top-flight outfit Orebro.
It was upon being called up to represent Iraq during their qualifying campaign for Brazil 2014 that the winger-cum-forward’s career moved onto a whole new level, however. Last month, the 21-year-old played his first-ever match for the Lions of Mesopotamia against Japan, before taking part in a friendly encounter with Brazil on Thursday, in a match staged in his adopted country, Sweden.
FIFA.com spoke to the young Iraqi about his recent inclusion in the senior national squad, and his country’s chances of appearing at FIFA’s flagship tournament in 2014.
As football is the most popular sport in Iraq, it is in no way surprising that Yasin’s parents encouraged him to take it up at such a young age, especially as his three brothers, Salar, Araz and Zayd, are also big fans of the game.
“My whole family loves football. When I was little, I would watch my brothers’ games. They’ve actually had a big influence on my style of play,” he said. “They were role models for me, and without them, I probably wouldn’t have kept playing.”
The advice he received from his siblings helped him to make significant progress, as his brother Zayd confirms: “Ahmed’s talents are just crazy, from his speed to his skills on the ball. I always give him advice to improve his confidence and to encourage him to do all he can to score and win games.”
His family were also influential when it came to deciding whether or not to accept an initial call-up to Iraq’s Olympic team, who were involved in Asian qualifying matches for London 2012 at the time. Yasin would go on to participate in three third-round matches, against United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and Australia.
We’re certainly not going to make it easy for [Australia], and I hope we can win the game, so that we can continue on our march to Brazil.
Asked how he made the decision, the newly capped international said: “Representing Iraq was a massive thing for me. I had to choose between the country of my birth and Sweden, my adopted home. In the end, after advice from my family, I opted for Iraq.”
“It was incredible for them to be able to watch my matches on television. My parents have often told me about the passion that the Iraqi people feel for their national team, and about the excitement that it generates.”
In football, it is often the case that players need to grasp the first opportunity that is presented to them. Unfortunately for Yasin, club commitments prevented him from answering the call of the senior Iraq side at the first time of asking, for a FIFA World Cup qualifier against Singapore in February.
But national coach Zico decided that it was worthwhile offering the precocious youngster another chance, including him in his squad to face Japan in Saitama last month. “Personally speaking, I knew that I’d get another opportunity. It was amazing to be part of the national set-up, taking on Japan in an absolutely packed stadium,” said Yasin.
“It’s the biggest match that I’ve played in my career so far. I didn’t think I would start the game, but the coach gave me the nod. I’m so happy to have been able to honour my family in this way,” he added.
The rising star of Iraqi football does not hold back in his praise for the Brazil legend at the helm of the national side. “Zico’s not just anyone. He was a brilliant player, and he’s still loved by football fans everywhere, as we witnessed when we were in Japan. He’s a great man, who teaches us new things every day,” he said.
Yasin has now set himself the not insignificant goal of helping his nation reach Brazil 2014. On Tuesday in Doha, he is hopeful of playing in his second successive international match, this time versus a formidable Australia side.
Zico’s not just anyone. He was a brilliant player, and he’s still loved by football fans everywhere. He’s a great man, who teaches us new things every day.
Despite the strength of their upcoming opponents, the skilful Orebro player is confident about his team’s chances. “The Australians won’t take us lightly. They know that taking us on in Qatar is a tough prospect. We’re certainly not going to make it easy for them, and I hope we can win the game, so that we can continue on our march to Brazil,” he said.
Yasin’s optimism is based on the positive aspects of Iraq’s play that were evident against the Japanese, despite the 1-0 loss suffered on the night. “Before the game, some people had predicted a heavy defeat for us. But we put together some great moves, which gave us a real confidence boost for the match with Australia.”
“We’re convinced that we can qualify. The whole team dreams of nothing else. We hope to give the people of Iraq something to smile about by making it to Brazil,” he concluded.
After having already achieved his first aim of donning an Iraqi jersey, Yasin is ready to give his all to ensure that his second dream, that of appearing at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, also becomes a reality.