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.


Gabriel Jesus fires twice as Manchester City snatch top spot from Liverpool by beating Everton

Updated 28 min 35 sec ago
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Gabriel Jesus fires twice as Manchester City snatch top spot from Liverpool by beating Everton

MANCHESTER: Pep Guardiola welcomed Gabriel Jesus’s return to form as the Brazilian struck twice in a 3-1 win over Everton as Manchester City leapfrogged Liverpool back to the top of the Premier League.
Jesus hadn’t scored a Premier League goal for four months before opening the scoring midway through the first-half and bulleted home a header to double City’s lead early in the second-half.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin briefly gave Everton hope, but Raheem Sterling came off the bench to make the game safe with his first touch and move City two points ahead of Liverpool, who host Manchester United on Sunday.
“Strikers need to score goals,” said Guardiola of Jesus’s man-of-the-match performance. “The difference today was that he scored as he was in better positions.”
Guardiola could even afford the luxury of leaving Kevin de Bruyne and Sergio Aguero on the bench on their return from injury as the Catalan coach again shuffled his pack for the busy festive period.
But fears in recent weeks that City lack a predator in front of goal when Aguero is absent were quashed by two fine finishes from Jesus.
“My confidence is back because my family is here and it helps me a lot. I needed my family in this moment,” said the Brazilian international.
“This year it (the title) will be more difficult because the (other) clubs will play better. I think it is very important we have come back to first position.”
With temperatures approaching freezing in Manchester, City were nearly caught cold by a rare Everton break early on when Richarlison fired the first big chance of the game over from Lucas Digne’s cross.
“The biggest chance was our chance with Richarlison,” Everton boss Marco Silva said.
“Against these teams we have to be effective when we create opportunities to score.”
And Everton also played a big part in their own downfall at the other end when Jesus opened the scoring.
Yerry Mina’s hopeful punt gifted away possession and the Colombian then played Jesus onside as the Brazilian ran onto Sane’s pass to fire low past Pickford.
The England number one handed Liverpool victory in the Merseyside derby earlier this month, but Pickford wasn’t so charitable to City as he made an excellent save to prevent Riyad Mahrez doubling the hosts’ lead just before half-time.
The champions had to wait just five minutes after the break to make it 2-0, when a patient build-up again found Sane on the left and the German’s cross was met by a powerful header from Jesus.
Everton had barely offered any threat in the second period before they got back into the game 25 minutes from time, Calvert-Lewin’s header from a high-hanging Digne cross flicking off Fabian Delph and past the helpless Ederson.
Guardiola responded by sending on Sterling for Sane and in a week when the England international has bravely spoken out about the alleged racist abuse he suffered last weekend by Chelsea fans, he also made his mark on the field by scoring immediately.
“I think Raheem has handled the last few years in terms of situations and rumors, about him or his family or the color of his skin very calmly,” added Guardiola.
“I admire him and appreciate that it’s not easy for him. He’s loved by all staff and in the locker room.”
Jesus was involved again as he freed Fernandinho inside the area and his cross picked out the unmarked Sterling to score a rare header.
De Bruyne then made his first appearance for six weeks — just his fourth in the Premier League all season, all of which have come as a substitute — after lengthy absences for two knee injuries.
Other than defeat to Chelsea last weekend, City have barely missed a beat without the Belgian, but the return of their player of the year in last season’s record-breaking campaign is an early Christmas present for Guardiola ahead of Liverpool’s visit to the Etihad on January 3.