Hussein Ali could be Gulf Cup hero for Iraq

Iraq's midfielder Hussein Ali (L) vies for the ball against Yemen's midfielder Abdulwasea Al-Matari during their 2017 Gulf Cup of Nations group match at Al Kuwait Sports Club Stadium in Kuwait City on December 29, 2017. / AFP / Yasser Al-Zayyat
Updated 02 January 2018
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Hussein Ali could be Gulf Cup hero for Iraq

KUWAIT: Hussein Ali has cemented his place in the Iraqi national side after making his debut only four months ago and is now the darling of his nation’s fanatical supporters after his outstanding performances at the 23rd Gulf Cup in Kuwait, where he has picked up the man-of-the-match award in each of the three games he has played in. He is on course to be named the player of the tournament.

Iraq’s great footballer Ahmed Radhi, who scored Iraq’s only goal at a World Cup finals, told Kuwaiti TV sports show Lobby Khaleeji that he’s the one player who gets him out of his seat,“like Messi when he gets on the ball for Barcelona and causes havoc in the penalty area.”

Hussein, 20, has the world at his feet and reportedly has several contract offers from top Saudi and Qatar clubs, however he’s not always been in such demand. A gifted footballer in his youth, he was often overlooked by youth coaches because of his height. Standing at a mere 5ft 3in, he struggled to make the cut ahead of more physically developed players.

This could have stalled the careers of many others, but not Hussein, a player that was destined to make it as a footballer. If you ask him what he fears most about life, he will tell you, the only thing he fears is failure, which is why he gives every inch on the field and is never one to give up or concede defeat. That overwhelming determination to succeed has seen him win both a league and cup winners’ medal by the time he had turned 20 and he is now a regular in Iraq’s senior side.

Growing up, the Al-Zawraa No. 9 was always seen by his coaches as a gifted footballer and the young Hussein has seen and traveled the region, playing football for teams in youth tournaments. At just 12 he was part of a 22-man Iraqi Under-14 squad that participated at the Asian Under-14 Games in Doha where he met and took a memorable photo as a memento with Iraqi captain Younis Mahmoud, then a player at Al-Gharafa. Hussein was one of the youngest players in the squad but eight years on, he is the only member of the side to have made it at the top level in the Iraqi league.

He was born in Baghdad on Nov. 29, 1996 and comes from Al-Sadr City, “the city within a city.” The player started in the youth system of Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya for their Ishbal or cubs team until he enrolled at the Ammo Baba Football School. There he was trained by the Habib Jafar, a former player of the tournament at the Gulf Cup and also a native of Al-Sadr City. Like his mentor, Hussein began his career as a right winger but he is more than just a right sided attacker. Hussein has a versatility to his game and has already proven that he can play anywhere in midfield, whether it be in the center, out-wide on either wings or as a playmaker.

What strikes you when you first see the youngster is how he never seems overawed whatever comes before him, whether it is the dreadful state of the pitches in Iraq or the occasion, a league game in a provincial town or a big city derby against the local rivals, Hussein gives everything on the pitch. He is the type who would dribble past every player on the opposing team and either finish promptly past the keeper or pass it to a team-mate for an easy tap-in. A complete street footballer, or shaabiya as you would say in Iraq, he is equally capable of winning the ball back for his team with a lunging tackle and score a last-gasp winner from the edge of the box.

Like many talented players of his stature, Hussein has a low center of gravity and another thing that is noticeable are his powerful thighs, obviously something he has been working on in the gym. This makes it almost impossible for taller and more physical defenders to knock him off the ball. The midfielder has incredible stamina and rarely does he exhibit any exhaustion or break a sweat when he comes off at the end of the match, despite covering every blade of grass.

What is evident is that there is a lot more to come from this exciting young playmaker and Hussein could be the key to Iraq winning the Gulf Cup for the first time in 30 years.


Historymaker: Saudi teen secures Kingdom’s first ever Olympic gold medal

Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Al-Assiri wins historic first gold for the country.
Updated 18 October 2018
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Historymaker: Saudi teen secures Kingdom’s first ever Olympic gold medal

  • The victory marked Saudi’s third time on the podium at the two-week Youth Olympics
  • I have been working towards this moment for 10 years, said the gold medalist

BUENOS AIRES: It is said that the karate-ka who has given the necessary years of commitment and meditation to the sport is both fearless and tranquil. They can, it is said, be calm even in a burning building.

Last night, inside a furnace-like Europe Pavilion at the Youth Olympic Park, and in front of Thomas Bach, the President of the International Olympic Committee, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Al-Assiri won the Kingdom its first ever Olympic gold medal. And welcomed it, initially at least, with utmost calm. 

Defeating Masaki Yamaoka of Japan 8-0 in the Men’s Kumite -61kg final, the 17-year-old Saudi immediately thanked his opponent and bowed to the various officials, before turning to his coach, removing his red gloves slowly, and greeting him with a starch salute. Only afterwards, once these rituals of respect were over and his opponent had slipped away, did Al-Assiri explode with joy, his face contorting into beautiful agony as he screamed in guttural Arabic and jumped around the mat.

“I am so happy, so proud,” he said, his prize glinting in the spotlight of the world’s media. “This is the first gold medal for Saudi Arabia and our first medal ever in karate. I have been working towards this moment for 10 years, especially in the past two when my training intensified. I came for gold and this is the result of years of serious work. It was very difficult, but I am just so proud. Thank you to Allah.”

The victory marked Saudi’s third time on the podium at the two-week Youth Olympics, after bronze medals in weightlifting and 400m Hurdles. It is a stellar return for a country that brought only nine athletes to Argentina and has won just one medal at this level before, a bronze in equestrian four years ago. Yousef Jalaiden, the chef de mission for the Saudi delegation, had confidently predicted medals earlier this week, but even he admits expectations have been exceeded.

“We are very happy right now,” Jalaiden said, watching as Al-Assiri, wrapped in the Saudi flag, posed for photos with Prince Fahd bin Juluwe bin Abdulaziz bin Musaed, the head of the delegation. “It’s our best achievement ever at an Olympics — be it Youth or the full Olympics. We are so happy — we hoped for three medals, like I said before, and we got them,”

Karate is making its Olympic debut this week ahead of Tokyo 2020 and Assiri had secured his place after winning at the first qualifying event in Croatia this summer. In front of vocal support from Saudis and Egyptians, he was handed the historic victory after his offensive front-footed display culminated with Yamaoka fouling four times during their bout.

“During training, people from other countries were all telling us Mohammed would take gold, but for us it was never a certainty,” Jalaiden added. “We expected him to reach the final, but when you get to a final, anything can happen. He has been training exceptionally hard though and it has all paid off.”

Earlier in the afternoon, Egypt’s Yasmin Nasr El-Gewily won the Women’s Kumite 53kg final, defeating Japan’s Rinka Tahata 2-1. “Egypt are our neighbours and we have an excellent relationship with them, so today it is like our nation is one,” said Jalaiden. “We have both enjoyed great success here.”