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.


What now for Saudi Arabia’s big four teams?

Updated 19 April 2018
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What now for Saudi Arabia’s big four teams?

  • Al-Hilal won their 15th top-flight title this season.
  • Big summer for Saudi Arabia football with the Green Falcons at the World Cup.

Now the Saudi Professional League season is over for another year Arab News can look back at their title tilts and what the big four clubs have to do over the coming months ahead of the next season.

 



AL-HILAL

Finished: Champions

Coaching situation: Ramon Diaz was in charge for much of the season, but was fired in February after setbacks in the Champions League.
Assistant Juan Brown did Okay in the final stretch, but a top-class coach could get more out of this team.

Squad priorities: A reliable goalscorer to support Omar Khribin and with veteran defender Osama Hawsawi leaving for pastures new, a replacement center-back with leadership qualities. Welcoming back the major stars — Carlos Eduardo, Khribin, Nawaf Al-Abed and Salem Al -Dawsari — will be a major boost.

Aim next season: Win the AFC Champions League

 



AL-AHLI

Finished: Second

Coaching situation: Sergiy Rebrov is out of contract at the end of June. His future is likely to depend on how the team fares against Al-Sadd in the second round of the AFC Champions League in May.

Squad priorities: There is not much wrong. The Jeddah giants were the highest scorers in the league last season and had the second best defense. Keeping star midfielder Leonardo fit will help as will a little cover in the center of defense. Star striker Omar Al-Somah fell out with the coach in a public way in the penultimate game of the season. It may be that one of them has to go. The Syrian has been player of the year for three years and has a longer contract than Rebrov.

Aim next season: Win the league. Maintain good performances in Asia.


 
AL-NASSR

Finished: Third

Coaching situation: Krunoslav Jurcic arrived in January and the former Croatian national team boss produced an upswing in results. May just be a temporary appointment and it needs to be sorted quickly.

Squad priorities: Looks good with the Saudi Arabia national team keeper, a strong center-back pairing of Omar Hawsawi and Bruno Uvini and the full-back position seemingly sorted with the January signing of Saad Suhail. They probably need a defensive midfielder and have to keep Junior Kabananga. The DR Congo striker has shown enough in his few weeks at the club to suggest that he could be a real star next season, especially with Leonardo pulling the strings behind him.

Aim next season: A genuine title challenge and getting through the play-offs into  the 2019 AFC Champions League.

 


AL-ITTIHAD

Finished: Ninth

Coaching situation: A bottom half finish is unacceptable for a team with Al-Itithad’s stature and history. Chilean coach Jose Luis Sierra may find that winning domestic cups is no substitute for challenging for the title.

Squad priorities: There is too much reliance on players such as Carlos Villanueva, a creative spark in the team, and Fahad Al-Ansari, the midfield engine, who are the wrong side of 30. The possible return of star winger Fahad Al-Muwallad will help, but an introduction of energy is needed.

Aim next season: Top three and, if the team wins the King’s Cup, a good showing in the 2019 AFC Champions League.