The U23 Asian Cup is quickly approaching and Iraq is one of the favourites going into the competition. The squad features some experienced players and some fresh exciting talent to boot. The competition sees Iraq drawn with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Malaysia in a tasty Group C. The competition will be held in China from the 9th January to the 27th of January 2018. We’ve taken a look at five youngsters we recommend you keep an eye out for during the tournament in China.
The man of the hour. Hussain has been something of an uncovered gem in recent weeks. The player impressed over the last few months following a string of promising performances with his club and the Iraqi U23 team. However, his three Man of the Match awards in the Gulf Cup 23 has confirmed what many suspected regarding his incredible talents. Short, slightly stocky and yet somehow untouchable when he dribbles at defenders.
Hussain’s eye for a killer pass proves a deadly combination with his positioning in the opposition half. He actively looks for the ball and comes between the opposition defence and midfield, making him a nightmare to mark. Iraqi fans are dying to see more of their new talisman and this might be just the tournament to get him global recognition and that career-changing move to Europe. Can he deliver on the big stage?
There’s more to Safaa than his flamboyant hairstyle. The 19 year old midfielder has emerged as a rare talent in the Iraqi league for Al-Zawra’a SC. His height and large frame gives him a presence in the middle of the park, which helps him dominate the opposition. Good at reading the game and not afraid to get his hands dirty, the youngster will relish starting alongside Amjad Atwan.
Safaa can play too and likes to get forward when he can. Don’t be surprised to see the midfielder driving into the opposition box and causing havoc against a backpedaling defence. He’ll happily have a shot from distance and occasionally chips in with a goal or two.
The Persepolis superstar is quietly making a name for himself in Iran and is polishing his skills in a highly competitive league. He’s a first team regular with the league leaders, where he’s proving a nuisance for opposition teams who struggle to keep up with the attacking talisman. Beshar’s finest quality is his decision making. He often plays the correct pass in the final third and does the basics well.
He’s also featured in the Asian Champions League last season and held his own against the continent’s finest. A big tournament for him in the following weeks will see him recalled in the Iraqi national team starting XI as he’s currently on the fringes.
Iraq has been experimenting with their goalkeeper choices – sometimes recklessly – and have yet to decide who should be the main man behind the sticks for the Lions of Mesopotamia. Fahad Talib, Hassan Jalal and Mohammed Hameed have all been tried and tested recently, as has veteran Mohammed Gassid. However, there is still no clear direction as to who should be the Iraqi number 1.
In steps Ahmed Basil. The Al Shorta goalkeeper has thrown his name into contention with a string of good performances for the U23 side. Iraqis will be following his performances closely across the tournament to see how he fares against talented opposition. Should he prove himself, he might find himself in the Asian Cup squad that flies to the UAE in 2019.
Replacing Younis Mahmoud has proven to be an impossible task for Iraq. Aymen Hussain, Muhanned Abdul-Raheem and Alaa Abdulzahra are struggling to regularly find the net and have all been rightly criticised by fans for missing sitters in the Gulf Cup. Iraq is desperately looking for a quality striker who can finish chances and get into dangerous positions in the opposition box rather than wait for the ball to land at their feet.
Farhan Shakor will relish this chance to prove himself capable of leading the line in the next Asian Cup but needs to get his name on the score sheet for that to happen. Farhan scored three times and impressed in Iraq’s U20 World Cup side in 2013. He’s already made his first team debut for the national side and will look to build on an already promising reputation.