Kolkata, Oct 7 (IANS) Iraq’s preparations for the FIFA Under-17 World Cup have been marred by financial problems arising from the war and political turmoil that has brought the strife-torn country to its knees in recent times, their coach Qahtan Chitheer said on the eve of their first match against Mexico here.
“The situation in Iraq is really hard. There are some issues but the players are extremely committed and we hope for the best,” Chitheer said.
Despite their liberation from the decades-long Saddam Hussein dictatorship in 2003, Iraq remained strife-torn and is fighting against the Islamic State.
Chitheer said their bane has been lack of funds due to which their preparations leading up to the tournament were affected.
“Our preparation was not as we planned because of financial and social issues. We played against some neighbouring teams and you can say we are almost satisfied and look forward to the tournament,” the coach said.
Elaborating on that, a team official added: “We are playing neighbouring clubs and teams to avoid major expenses.
“We played Jordan, Syria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, not any teams outside the Gulf. We played Iraqi clubs also. This is a problem not just in football but in general also. The senior team is also affected,” the official said.
Iraq are in Group F which also has England and Chile besides Mexico. The Iraqis had a 30-45 day camp before the meet where the players assembled together but unlike their group rivals, they could not travel abroad to play against different styles and cultures.
That is perhaps why they are falling back on the 2007 batch of their senior team which defied odds to win the Asian Cup.
“Of course the players of 2007 are ones we all look up to. We hope to do something like what they did in 2007,” captain Saif Khalid said.
“We are now champions of U-16 category (AFC Championships) and won the 2007 Asian cup,” Chitheer said.
Exactly a year back, Iraq became Asian champions after beating bitter foes Iran here in Goa and qualified for the World Cup.
A FIFA imposed ban meant they could not play matches in their country till May this year but that did not stop them from winning the 2016 AFC U-16 Championship in a thrilling final in Margao on October 2.
After the FIFA ban was lifted, Iraq were able to play friendlies in Basra, Karbala and Erbil.
“It’s a very important championship for us. We will represent the Arab countries in the tournament and try to make our country proud,” Khalid said when asked about the fact that Iraq are the only Gulf nation to have qualified for the World Cup.
“Important players like Neymar and Ronaldinho have played this competition before,” he added.
Iraq will pin a lot of hope on star striker Mohammed Dawood. “We are confident he will do well. He is a great player. He will be the next star of Iraq,” Khalid said.