Iraq team "only aiming at success" Asian Games

Early this year, Iraq's national side rose from the turmoil of war and declared themselves as the regional football powerhouse by winning the West Asian Games. And now their second string, a young and spirited Olympic side is in Doha on a mission — the Asian Games. "Football is something that runs through the blood of every Iraqi," Iraqi coach, Yahya Manhel, told N D Prashant of the Gulf Times. "Football, here, is like what it is for the people of Brazil. Everyone loves football in my country. Any corner you go, you will see kids somehow sneak in time and find a safe place to play football ... "You will always find quality when Iraq plays, for we have plenty of skilful and gutsy players. They know they have nothing to boast about, so they show what they are made of, on the field."

Another quality that has won many a hearts is how Iraqis raise their game when it comes to playing in big tournaments. "You don't know how big this Asian Games is for my boys. It's is like a new life for them. And when you get a new life you will like to live it to the fullest. So they are in such a frame of mind where they are only aiming at success," reveals Manhel, whose team comes into the tournament after playing just two club matches against Jordan-based sides. "Practise on a regular basis is out of question in Iraq. Travelling is a big worry, some make it for training, some don't and we can't blame them as well. So what ever little training we manage is outside the country. However, the players do individual training but when they are together they play as a unit and make the most of it," notifies Manhel, whose two sons Yasir and Ahmed play for Zora and Al Kark clubs in Iraq.

Iraq has already qualified for the next stage but the coach is keen to press on and finish at the top of the table. "We have to keep the momentum going now. Most of the boys are under-21 and only Yunis Mahmoud the skipper has experience as he is from the national team. With the morale high, we have to keep progressing with every match. A win against Syria will be a big boost ... It will be a tough ask for any team playing against Qatar as it's their home turf. Others who will put up a strong performance are Iran and Syria. Japan and Korea too will be favourites going into any match. And don't forget us."