Olympic Football Tournaments 2016 - Men

Abdulraheem inspired by Iraq's class of 2004

Iraqi U20 forward Mohanad Karrar
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While Iraq was undergoing a political crisis during the summer of 2004, a young Mohanad Abdulraheem could think of little else than the Olympic Games in Greece. There, seemingly against all the odds, an Iraq team spearheaded by Younis Mahmoud was plotting a course through to the semi-finals of the Men's Olympic Football Tournament.

Abdulraheem was just 11 at the time and could scarcely have imagined that one day he too would take to the field with Mahmoud, unquestionably one of the finest forwards in Iraqi football history. Still less could he have imagined becoming the star attraction for Iraq's supporters, or the man who helped seal their ticket to a second Olympic finals.

"Every human being has dreams and I've managed to achieve my ambitions so far, thanks to everyone who helped me become a footballer," he explained to FIFA.com, looking back on his route to the top. "Personally, I want to keep improving and follow in the footsteps of the great Iraq forwards who shone during the 1970s. We've produced several fantastic strikers like Ahmed Radhi, Ali Kadhim and so on. I hope to have as much success as them."

The fact that he has played with another iconic forward in Mahmoud over the last few years just goes to show how rapidly the 22-year-old has risen to prominence. Abdulraheem's progress has come at a startling pace, and he credits the national side's all-time record scorer with helping him develop his talent. "Younis Mahmoud is a living legend of the Iraq team and Al Talaba. I've learned a lot from playing with him because he's a great forward who knows how to take his chances and be in the right place at the right time."

International success
Abdulraheem began his journey in the game with Al Karkh, before continuing his burgeoning career with a two-year stint at Duhok. From there, he made his way to Algeria for a short spell at JSK, but he was soon back in Iraq to join up with Baghdad giants Al Zawraa, who are now vying to win the Iraqi championship this season.

That would represent a first-ever club trophy for Abdulraheem, but he has already experienced success on the international stage, being named player of the tournament as Iraq reached the final of the AFC U-19 Championship in 2012. That same year, he was also voted as AFC Young Player of the Year.

The forward carried on in a similar vein in 2013, scoring the winning goal against Egypt during the group phase at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey, where he and his colleagues eventually bowed out on penalties against Uruguay in the semi-finals.

Then, earlier this year, he helped Iraq advance to the last four at the AFC U-23 Championship in Qatar. Japan ultimately blocked their route to the final – and denied them an automatic berth at the 2016 Olympic Games – but Abdulraheem crucially found the net again in the last few minutes of their play-off for third place against the hosts. His strike levelled the match at 1-1, and Iraq clinched their ticket to Rio de Janeiro with the winner in extra time.    

"Qatar are a strong team and they scored right at the start of the game," he recalled. "Luck was on our side in the last remaining minutes and I scored the equaliser. It was one of the most important goals of my career because it helped us qualify for Rio."

The Asian outfit could do with a few more goals from their young marksman as they have been drawn in a tough group with Brazil, South Africa and Denmark. Iraq are far from favourites, but Abdulraheem is hopeful that each member of their squad will give everything on the pitch as usual.

"Qualifying for the Olympic Games is a real achievement for us," he said. "We're not expected to win a medal, but we want to follow in the footsteps of the team that made it to the semi-finals in Athens in 2004."

If they do, expect many more youngsters from Baghdad and beyond to dream of taking up the game.

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