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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
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.

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