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Iraq youth will open doors but may have to answer questions

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Iraq's players and their head coach Hakim Shaker (C) celebrate their victory at the end of a group stage football match Iraq vs Chile at the FIFA Under 20 World Cup at Akdeniz University Stadium in Antalya on June 29, 2013. AFP PHOTO / BULENT KILIC
Iraq's players and their head coach Hakim Shaker (C) celebrate their victory at the end of a group stage football match Iraq vs Chile at the FIFA Under 20 World Cup at Akdeniz University Stadium in Antalya on June 29, 2013. AFP PHOTO / BULENT KILIC

There was another victory for the Iraq youth team in Antalya, on Saturday, with Chile this time dispatched, with goals from Mahdi Kamil and Saif Salman. The way the team has performed at the FIFA World Youth Cup will surely open doors for the likes of Mohammed Hamed, Ali Adnan, Humam Tariq and Mohanad Abdul-Rahim with lucrative contract offers abroad, but it will also pose some serious questions, like how is this Iraqi youth team one of the best in world youth football, while its senior side finished last in their group behind Jordan and Oman.

This same question was asked by coach Chus Pereda, then managing the Spain U-20 at the FIFA World Youth Cup in 1989, after Iraq’s young charges had beaten his team and topped their group at the tournament in Saudi Arabia. He questioned the ages of the Iraqi players, noting their beards and moustaches and retorted to the gathering press and the Iraqi coach Anwar Jassam, that if the Iraqi youth team his players lost to, were truly under 20, then the Iraqi senior side had the prospect to win the World Cup.

If Iraq continues its progress in this tournament, and even win the World Youth Cup, many questions will be asked, but will Iraqi fans and the whole football community be willing to listen?

Many of the Iraqi team have been permanent fixtures in the Iraqi league from season 2009-2010.

It is not uncommon for players to make their debuts at 15 or 16, but how is it possible that Iraq has a squad filled with players that have done just that. A team packed with Freddy Adus and Wayne Rooneys.

The 17 year-old youngster Humam Tariq of Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya, one of Iraq’s top clubs, was supposedly handed the No.11 jersey at his club at 15 and was a key fixture in the first team for the start of the 2010-2011 season.

Iraqi captain and goalkeeper Mohammed Hamed from the province of Al-Anbar, was the first team keeper for his club Al-Ramadi in 2007-2008 and in 2009 moved to Baghdad to play for Al-Kahraba and even played for the Iraqi youth team in 2008. He was born on January 24, 1993, making him 20 years of age, so he was supposedly 15 or 16 years old when he became a first team player.

Then there is defender Mustafa Nadhim, who was playing for his home city club Al-Diwaniya in the Iraqi top flight in 2009-2010 at the age of 15, and moved to Al-Najaf the following year after his club were relegated.

Hozan Ismail was a youth player at German based Vfb Bochum before he moved to Sulimaniya in 2008 and has represented four clubs in the Iraqi league from 2008-2009.

The same can be said for Ali Yasin, Fahad Talib, Ali Faiz, Saad Natiq, Saif Salman, Jawad Kadhim, Ammar Abdul-Hussein, Mohammed Jabar Shukan, and AFC Young Player of the Year Mohanad Abdul-Rahim, who have all been first team players for their clubs at just 16.

Can anyone believe that former Iraqi coach, the German Wolfgang Sidka, called up Ammar Abdul-Hussein and Mohammed Jabar Shukan to the seniors in 2010? They were both 16 years of age at the time. Their club team-mate from Al-Minaa, right back Mohammed Jabar Rabat was handed his international debut against North Korea at the age of 17.

Is it really possible, that Iraq has so many teenage prodigies that make their debuts at sixteen years of age in the top division and play for the Iraqi national team at 17?

Many questions will be asked, if Iraq’s run in the world youth tournament continues, the main one being, has Iraq discovered a secret formula for football ability or is there another reason for the team’s success?