Iraq united in football

Sportsworld's Rahul Pathak finds an unlikely mix of players in Iraq's football family.

    Providing the driection: Iraq football coach
    Jorvan Vieira [AFP]

     

    There are several different languages spoken in the Iraq national football team, but the message is the same.

    This is one group of Iraqis, Shia, Sunni and Kurdish who are completely united.

    "You see Iraq has a tradition in football, they have a name not now but before," Jorvan Vieira, Iraq coach, told Al Jazeera.

    "Every time everybody has respect for Iraq national teams."

    He may be Brazilian but no one has more belief in this group of players than Vieira.

    Having coached teams in Africa and the Middle East, leading Iraq into their first Asian Cup finals for 20 years poses a unique set of problems.

    "It's a good challenge because it's not easy to work with a national team whose people are at war," Vieira said.

    "I think everyone in this world has to do something to help solve these problems. I don’t have a gun, I have a ball and whistle.

    "This is my way, to get my players more together to show the people of Iraq that we can live together without any problem."

    More than talk

    It's not all talk, as watching the Iraq team train gives a real sense of unity and togetherness, however there is no escaping the reality of the situation back home as just a week before this interview the team's physio was killed in a car bombing in Baghdad.

    "At the moment our country is going through a rough time, so the only thing that is making them happy is sport in general not just football, so we need to give them a positive attitude and win to give them something to smile about," Ahmed Menajed, Iraqi striker, said.

    "Our team is one big family. It's the only family that is united in Iraq even though we come from different regions and backgrounds."

    Another legacy of the war is the large Iraqi Diaspora.

    In Jordan, one of many countries that boasts a sizeable Iraqi immigrant community, the fortunes of the Iraq national side is as big a topic of conversation as the ongoing conflict.

    The Iraq national football team training in
    Jordan [Aljazeera]

     

    "It means so much to us. Because we are abroad, we are anxious to see any Iraqi. How can you feel when you see your team playing?" said an Iraq fan in Jordan.

    "But we hope everything can be ok and one day we can watch them in our stadium in Baghdad. We are proud if they do well or if they don't do well.

    "If they do well it is very good because they are different from the other teams, they are playing outside of their country. But if they don't do well then that is ok, we are with them, always"

    "Proud to be a Kurd"

    One of the bright young stars of Iraqi football is Hawar Mulla Mohammed, a Kurdish player in a team dominated by Arabs.

    Not only is he an important member of the Iraqi midfield but his continuing success is vital if the game is to flourish in his country.

    "First of all I am here to represent my country Iraq. There is no difference here between Kurds, Sunni and Shiite," Hawar said.

    "I am proud to be a Kurd and Iraqi and I hope that I will continue to serve my country.

    "I have been with the national team for over six years, we are like brothers and I have always been treated the same. We are here to play for the same flag, the Iraqi flag"

    For coach Vieira, having his team united as one seemed as important on the field as it is off.

    "Yes, this is the most beautiful thing. As you say I have players from many different ethnic groups and this the most beautiful image for the Iraqi people," Vieira said.

    "Here we have a family."

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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