Iraqis overcome grief to play at Asian Cup

Striker Younis Mahmoud said Iraq’s players will mask their grief at the AFC Asian Cup 2007 and play for the people of their strife-torn homeland. Mahmoud goes into the tournament mourning the loss of a close relative while another teammate Noor Sabri is grieving the recent killing of a loved one. “You all know the current situation in Iraq and the hard circumstances we face and this of course effects the national team. The Iraqi national team have their reputation in Asian and Arab football arenas and despite it all I am confident that we will make some good performances. We are not here just to take part in the competition but we are here to win. This is not only my personal opinion but all the players," Mahmoud told AFP.

Mahmoud, who was topscorer in the Qatar League last season, said he had suffered personally in the Iraq sectarian and militia violence, where bomb attacks are an almost daily occurrence. “I was personally affected with one close relative killed this year,” he said. “This is very difficult for me, and my teammate Noor Sabri, the goalkeeper, a very close relative of his was also killed. We put this behind us and we look forward to playing football here. This will not affect us and we try to do our best. In Iraq we say that the grief is in our hearts, but we will never show this to people. I hope everything will be okay in Iraq very soon and we will organise a future Asian Cup.”

Jorvan Vieira, the Brazilian coach of Iraq's national team, appointed just in June, works with his team at the Iraq Football Association's makeshift base in Jordan - effectively an Amman hotel lobby. "Some of them, if they go to Iraq, they are going to be killed," Vieira told Matthew Hall of The Guardian. "When you don't know where your home is, where your things are, you are lost in space. It's the same when you have no organisation in your house. You don't know where you put your socks or your trousers. It's the same here. They are lost people because of the war."

Despite their trials, Vieira said, his players have not allowed their country's troubles to affect the unity of the squad. "I don't have one person in this group who hasn't lost someone from their family because of this war. But they never mix politics in the team. They never talk about it. They regret the situation, of course, and they are nostalgic. They miss their country and they're not happy to see their country like it is but nobody talks about the war. I have different groups, different sects, like in Iraq, but here nothing happens and everything is OK. I have Sunni and I have Shia and there is no problem. They are very close. I have experience with a lot of Arabic countries and I've already learned a lot since I've been with the Iraq team. This is a typical religious war. The extremists have tried to put more fire in the situation. Iraqi people who used to live in peace before, and had respect for religious differences, are now under oppression.

"My assistant coach was living in Baghdad but one day he was driving his car and he was stopped. They stole his car and said, 'If you don't go, we will kill you.' Then they began calling him and said that if he didn't give money then they were going to kidnap his son. He had to leave Baghdad. The city is being run by gangsters, like in Brazil. Rio de Janeiro and Baghdad are like twin brothers when it comes to violence. It's crazy."