It is no secret that the Iraqi national team’s performances and results over the last year have fallen far short of expectations. In fact, even the most biased and hardcore Iraqi fans have not been without their own criticisms of the current national team, so much so that a selected number of fans and media outlets have described this current squad as one of the nation’s weakest ever. A major area of discussion has been the striker’s position, with Younis Mahmoud finally calling it a day on his illustrious career. His absence has no doubt left a gaping void in the Iraqi attack that has yet to be occupied. The more cynical fans will point that the later stages of Younis’ career were equally as uninspiring as the performances put forward by other potential strikers. Hence, the long search for a new prolific striker continues to drag on.
In steps Mohannad Abdul-Raheem. The former 2012 Asian Young Footballer of the Year and winner of the much coveted Asian Cup u22 ‘Most Valuable Player’ award has seen his fading career sparked back into life over the last two months.
His career has not been without its ups and downs, but the maturing centre-forward finally seems to have found his feet in front of goal with the now retired Younis Mahmoud no longer casting his shadow over potential striking candidates. The striker started his youth career at native club Al Karkh FC and worked his way up the rankings, where he became a first team regular in 2009. A transfer to Duhok in 2012 followed, before Mohanned eventually moved abroad to Algeria in 2014. However, his time with JS Kabylie was a disastrous one, where he picked up a horrible injury and failed to make any real impact in the first team. He returned to Al Zawra’a a year later, where he has impressed regularly.
IraqFootball.me have always looked to paint an honest and constructive picture over player’s performances in all games that have been covered. It’s fair to say that Mohannad has been under fair scrutiny for his performances over the last year or so, with him missing numerous chances and failing to make a mark for himself when given the opportunity. This was especially the case in the Rio 2016 Olympics, where the striker was guilty of missing numerous chances. However, in Muhannad’s defence, it was his last second equaliser against Qatar that kept us in the game and allowed us to qualify for Rio – credit where credit is due.
Recent performances for the national team have shown that Mohannad might have what it takes to lead the line for Iraq. His excellent turn and angled finish against Saudi Arabia, in a devastating defeat, was the first of his goals in this World Cup Qualification campaign. A tough fixture followed, where Iraq lost to a last minute winner for Japan, played in their home ground. Then, out of the blue, Mohannad bagged himself four goals against Thailand in a demolition match, which handed new Iraqi manager Radhi Shenaishil his first win this qualifying campaign. Iraq’s next fixture is against UAE, where it is hoped that Muhannad’s fine form continues and he can lead the national team to another much needed victory.
Mohannad’s fine form has not gone unnoticed at club level either, where UAE club Al Nasr quickly snatched up the Iraqi striker from Al Zawra’a SC. The club agreed to sign one-year contract with the player, which could be extended further depending on the agreement of both parties. It didn’t take long for Mohanned to make his mark either, with him scoring a fantastic debut header, which flew past the reach of the Al Wahda goalkeeper. His second game for Al Nasr was equally as prolific, with him scoring twice in a victory over Dibba Al Fajairah. Muhannad appears to be finding form just at the right time with Iraq’s next world cup qualifier around the corner.
It’s fantastic to see a much adored footballer turning his career around but it’s also important to remain cautious rather than getting ahead of ourselves; his goalscoring stats are simply not the most impressive. However, the player’s movement inside and around the box is exceptional and allows him to get into many fantastic goalscoring positions. This was an area that was lacking in the twilight of Younis Mahmoud’s career, which limited the team’s overall play. Having a far more mobile attacker in Muhanned creates space for wingers and attacking midfielders to play neat passes and exploit gaps behind the defence using through balls. Previously, the lack of movement from Younis resulted in one dimensional long balls due to his style of football, which was to play on the defender’s shoulder. However, his lack of pace meant this tactic was hardly ever successful.
Speaking to SoccerIraq.net, Mohanned said the following regarding comparisons between himself and Younis:
“Some players are irreplaceable, especially The Assassin. We hope we can reach the level and legacy of the previous generation, which included stars like Younis Mahmoud, and succeed them in the best possible way.
Although Muhannad’s movement is impressive, his finishing must improve further in order to push him up a level, where he has to convert a larger number of his opportunities into goals – a damning weakness in his game. He has certainly made a bright start to the new season and we hope he continues to improve further, but perspective is also important at this time. With Younis gone, Muhanned must prove himself as Iraq’s ‘go-to guy’. The lack of alternative striking options makes this more important now than ever before. However, this will also work in Muhannad’s favour as it will guarantee him a consistent run of games in which he can prove himself – a luxury he has never previously enjoyed given the ever-present Younis in the national team.