Hakim Shaker’s U-22 looked the only side capable of breaking the deadlock and after Marwan Hussein hit the post early in the game, Amjad Kelaf’s run and finish was enough to see Iraq reach the semi-finals.
Will this generation be able to challenge the Japanese senior side in the future?
An FA in turmoil and the elections now postponed, Najih Humoud and Abdul-Khaliq Masoud at loggerheads, the FA finally admitting their error in failing to pay Zico his $600,000 US. The senior side (U-22 is virtually the same side bar Salam, Ali Rahema and Younis) is a game away from failing to reach the Asian Cup finals for the first time in Iraq’s history – with the national side now ranked 115 in FIFA’s rankings.
Why do we continue to succeed in youth tournaments but stumble in World Cup qualifiers or the Asian Cup? Iraq even failed to win the 2012 WAFF Championship when they entered their senior side and other teams fielded weakened sides.
The Iraqi media has lauded the youth side (19 of whom are members of the senior side) but what will Iraq achieve if they win this tournament and fail to qualify for the 2015 Asian Cup or even the Olympic Games?
China’s U-22 included only one player that has played for their senior side, their captain Shi Ke and he has only one cap.
To put everything into perspective, not one of the Japanese side that Iraq beat 1-0 has played or have even been called into the Japanese senior national side, not one. While they take something away from their defeat to us and improve, our players, our so-called new generation, aren’t the generation of the future but the generation of today.
I don’t want to lessen or take away from the youth team’s ‘achievements’, but these tournaments are used by the Iraqi FA and its youth system to portray an altered reality, a kind of super generation of players that will mysteriously fade away before the next Olympic Games in Brazil.
In 1974 when the Iraqi youth team was formed, officials in the Iraqi FA and the Baathist run Ministry of Youth conspired together to engineer a false perception that the Baathist methods in youth development were succeeding, but in truth, Iraq was fielding players in their mid-20s.
Youth football and senior football aren’t the same – we’ve seen a whole squad of U-20 players selected into the national side. Many top Iraqi players have played for the U-20 youth side despite being overaged from Raad Hammoudi, Adnan Dirjal, Kadhim Waal, Kadhim Kamil, Saadi Younis, Ara Hamparsum, Ahmed Subhi, Hadi Al-Janabi, Hussein Liabi, Mahdi Abdul-Sahib, Jamal Ali, Salam Ali, Salim Hussein, Radhi Shanaishel, Samir Kadhim, Naiem Saddam, Haidar Obaid, Ali Wahaib, Emad Mohammed, Basim Abbas, Younis Mahmoud, Nashat Akram, Ali Rahema, Salam Shaker and many others.
And what successes we’ve had at youth level, at senior level, we’ve only reached one World Cup and won one Asian Cup.
The Iraq U-22 should win this AFC U-22 Championship with consummate ease, not because we Iraqis have found a magic formula in youth development but because playing seasoned internationals against young novices will give you a better chance of winning.
This is not about who is the more patriotic or nationalistic, defending the name and reputation of our nation or that other nations participate in age fraud (so why shouldn’t Iraq), it’s about advancement. Youth football is about the future, our youth teams have been playing first team football at some of Iraq’s top clubs for five seasons, and our youth players constantly make the step up from U-20, to U-22 and to senior with ease. As I mentioned before, the Iraq youth side has a squad full of youth prodiges that have made their debuts in senior club football at 15 years of age, Amjad Kalaf made his debut for Kut at 14. But why do we not hear of any current 15-year-olds players in the Iraqi league? Is this generation really that special? 15-year-old regulars at senior level is exceptional, but in the two top divisions in the Iraqi league, there is no 15 or even 16-year-old, that is playing first team football.
The aims and methods of the Ministry of Youth and the Iraqi FA in the mid-70s were purely political, solely to deceive a whole population and the outside world to demonstrate that the Baathist regime were advancing and producing champions of the future. Today, the Iraqi FA continues to deceive the nation, for its own interests, and portray successes and victories at youth level – to hide behind their failures at senior tournaments with the national side.
Change is needed and with the age of the internet, people are no longer silent. There is no Mafia-style ‘omerta’ or law of silence. Youth football is about improving the youth, and while we think our youth players are better than rival Asian countries – a real indication would be to play a team of real U-20/U-22 players against the top Asian U-20/U-22 nations.
The most important thing for Iraq will be to qualify for the 2015 Asian Cup, the rest will be meaningless if qualification is not secured.