Despite being just 16-years-old, Mohammed Dawood has already carved out slice of Iraqi football history in a manner similar to his idol Younis Mahmoud.
In 2007, Mahmoud starred as Iraq secured a stunning AFC Asian Cup win with the iconic captain finished as the tournament’s top-scorer and best player. There was further reward for Iraq with qualification to their maiden FIFA Confederation Cup South Africa 2009. Nine years on, it was in similar fashion that young Dawood made history, as the teenager bagged identical awards and Iraq won the 2016 AFC U-16 Championship for the first time. Their reward is a coveted place at October's FIFA U-17 World Cup in India.
"Mahmoud is my idol," the striking prodigy told FIFA.com. "For me, he is a legend who has provided me with consistent inspiration as he has done for many other Iraqi youngsters. I was so happy that my team won the Asian title. And I was glad that I earned the best player and top-scorer awards. Thank God for our achievements. I am also aware that I owe thanks to our coaching staff as well as my family for their strong support.
"Being frank, I didn't expect so much heading into the tournament," he continued reflecting on the memorable campaign. "It was my first international competitive competition and I was awkward. I was concerned because I wanted so much to live up to expectations. But our coaches encouraged me throughout and gave me confidence. My team-mates were also a big help and we played well as a unit."
*Heroic performances *
While Mahmoud finished as joint top-scorer in the aforementioned AFC Asian Cup alongside Yasser Al Qahtani and Naohiro Takahara with four goals each, Dawood claimed the 2016 AFC U-16 Championship top-marksman award with an unrivalled six goals, two more than Takefusa Kubo of Japan.
Despite the success Dawood acknowledges that he had a slow start to the campaign after failing to find the target in the opening two matches. But after he opened his account in the 1-1 stalemate against Oman - a crucial point which sealed their progression to the knockout stage - the dynamic striker found his goalscoring groove.
He struck in each half as they saw off Uzbekistan 2-0 in the quarter-final to book qualification for the FIFA U-17 World Cup. He then went on to complete a hat-trick as Iraq came from behind to dispatch Japan 4-2 to set up a mouth-watering final with Iran. The two sides were unable to break the deadlock in the final, but Iraq prevailed on penalties with Dawood converting the tournament-winning spot-kick.
For us Iraqi people, football is like the air which we must breathe.
And it was the comeback victory against Japan that Dawood singled out as the most memorable game. The young Samurai Blue entered the encounter in strong form having swept past Kyrgyzstan, Vietnam and Australia. Notably, they averaged seven goals per game while maintaining clean sheets. While the Japanese were favoured to progress, Dawood almost single-handedly fired his side to a surprise triumph.
The in-form striker put Iraq ahead inside 20 minutes but Japan rallied to draw level shortly afterwards, before taking the lead ahead of the break. Muntadher Abdulsada restored parity midway through the second half for Iraq and Dawood sealed the tie with two late spot-kicks. "For me, it was our best match," Dawood recalled. "We had to battle from behind to win. It was a hard-fought victory and it demonstrated our strengths and spirit."
*Star dreaming *
Donning the same number seven jersey, Dawood is a diehard Cristiano Ronaldo fan. In a sense, the youngster is harbouring dreams of becoming a superstar like the Portuguese. "I admire him. He is the best No7. I want to play in Real Madrid. I am so happy to hear that the club has extended us an invitation to visit Real Madrid and I wish I could play in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium."
Despite the dreamy ambitions, Dawood remains conscious that he will not achieve goals without a strong work ethic. With the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup drawing near, Dawood is aiming to showcase what he is capable of on a global stage.
"We will work very hard,” he said. “We will train well so we can make enough progress to compete against the strong teams in the World Cup. For us Iraqi people, football is like the air which we must breathe. We want to play good football and we want to make our people proud.”