Tariq: This Iraqi generation has proved our worth

5 Oct 2020
  • Humam Tariq dreams of making Qatar 2022

  • Winger rose to stardom at U-20 World Cup in 2013

  • Has represented Iraq at every tournament they participated in

It was eight years ago at the AFC U-19 Championship that Humam Tariq pulled on the Iraqi national team shirt for the first time. And although the team’s fans could not have imagined it at the time, the tournament would witness the emergence of a talented generation of players.

Among them was a young Tariq, who demonstrated an exceptional left foot, boundless energy and an ability to glide effortlessly around the pitch – all with a fierce passion to do his utmost for the national team cause.

Unbelievably, over the past eight years Tariq has participated in every tournament Iraq has taken part in, and in more than one edition of some; the AFC U-19 Championship, the FIFA U-20 World Cup, the Gulf Cup, the FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers, the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers, the AFC Asian Cup, AFC U-23 Championship, the Men's Olympic Football Tournament, as well as having professional stints with clubs in IR Iran, UAE and Egypt. All very impressive from a young man who has not yet turned 24.

In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, Tariq said: “I thank God for what I’ve achieved so far. I’ve been lucky as I’ve had the honour of wearing the Iraqi jersey in all these competitions. I still have a long way to go. Our next goal is to qualify for the World Cup and I’m sure that’s what we all want. Iraq is a great country and Iraqis deserve our sacrifice. So as players, our focus will be on making this happen.”

World Cup dream

Speaking over the phone from the Egyptian city of Ismailia, where Tariq plays for Ismaily SC in the country’s Premier League, the talented wide man assessed the current position of the Lions of Mesopotamia in the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ qualifiers. "We’re top of Group C and have three matches remaining. So we have to win them all. We want to progress to the final qualifying round as winners of our section in order to achieve the dream of gracing the World Cup for the first time since 1986."

Iraq have had an impressive qualifying campaign so far, winning three matches, one of them against IR Iran (2-1) and drawing home and away against Bahrain. "The five games we played were very difficult. We drew with Bahrain in Manama, had an important victory over Iran in the Jordanian capital Amman, and tied again with Bahrain in Jordan. Overall, I think we did well,” Tariq said.

"Bahrain have improved in the past two years; they play beautiful football and get good results. They won the West Asian Football Federation Championship in Iraq and the Gulf Cup in Qatar. The two draws we had them were fair. I hope they accompany us to the final qualifying round.

"As for Iran, they’re always favourites to qualify for the World Cup, and that’s why our clash with them was very critical. You can’t afford to lose to them. We played very well against them and I think the winning goal that came in the dying moments was a reward for all our efforts. It was a real six-pointer. Their defeat to Bahrain has also put them in a critical position."

While Iraq and Bahrain had played five games before football was suspended due to the coronavirus, IR Iran had played one game less. The latter now need to win their next three matches before their meeting with Iraq, which might well decide who progresses to the final qualifying round. "We know they’ll do their utmost to get all nine points before the game against us. We’ll certainly be ready for this, and we also want to reach the final qualifying round as group winners."

Patience and perseverance

The player had to spend some time away from his family during the global lockdown imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced him to stay in Ismailia. Asked about this challenging experience, he said: “Yes, it was difficult being away from my family, but all was good here. I have friends, and people here are very sociable. I spent a lot of time at home doing physical exercises to keep fit in anticipation of games resuming.”

Tariq exhibits great passion whenever he talks about his national team. “We haven't played for a long time, but when it’s time to compete again, we’ll be ready to regain our fitness and improve technically in order to finish the qualifiers well. I think 2021 will have lots of international matches, which is fine. It might be even better, as it would allow us to stay in more regular contact and get better results,” he said.

RAS AL KHAIMAH, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 11: Humam #11 of Iraq and Ryota Oshima #10 of Japan compete for the ball during the AFC U-19 Championship quarter final match between Iraq and Japan at Emirates Stadium on November 11, 2012 in Ras al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Koji Watanabe/Getty Images)

Tournaments to cherish

Tariq rose to stardom in 2012 when he took part in the AFC U-19 Championship. “It was a great tournament. We won back-to-back games and secured a spot at the World Cup, before reaching the final. We finished top of our group at the expense of Korea Republic. We then beat Japan in the quarter-finals and Australia in the semis, but luck was not on our side in the decider against Korea Republic. They drew level with us in added time and then beat us in a shootout.

Asked about his side’s impressive run at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013, Tariq said: “Yes, we had a historic tournament. That side had what it takes: talented players and a great coach. We spent a lot of time together, which helped us improve tremendously in terms of performance, mentality and style of play. We finished top of a group that included Chile, Egypt and England.

"Many thought it was mere luck and that we were going to exit from the last 16. It was a huge challenge and we wanted to prove to everyone that it was well deserved. We beat Paraguay and then took our revenge on Korea Republic (in a penalty shoot-out). In the semi-finals, we came up against Uruguay and almost achieved the miracle of making the final, but it was still a great experience, and we showed everyone how Iraqis play football.”

That tournament served as a launch pad for Tariq and his team-mates. "I was promoted to the senor team afterwards. I felt proud to play with great players, some of whom had won the 2007 Asian Cup. It was great to train and play with them,” he said.

“This generation proved our worth by qualifying for so many tournaments, and I’m lucky to have played in all these big competitions. We won the inaugural football tournament at the Asian Games, took part in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and played at the two most recent two Asian Cups (2015 and 2019).

"I’ve gained a lot of experience from these tournaments. As I said, we have the opportunity now to make use of all these experiences and focus on our goal of qualifying for Qatar 2022. That’s the least we can offer the Iraqi people, who are enduring difficult times and need a reason to be joyful,” he concluded.