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Chief coach Qahtan Chitheer feels his team’s stunning show to earn a maiden knockout berth in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup will unite people back home in strife-torn Iraq.
Continuing the dream run in their second U-17 World Cup appearance, the Lions of Mesopotamia finished second behind England from a ‘group of death’ to set up a round-of-16 clash against Mali.
“Nobody expected us to qualify. This was a tough group but we succeeded to be second with teams like Mexico and Chile,” Chitheer said after losing 0-4 to England in their last round group F fixture yesterday.
Iraq shift base to the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Margao, a year after they had won a historic AFC U-16 Championship last year with a thrilling penalty-shootout win over bitter foes Iran.
“This will surely unite our people. We will forget Sunday’s result and start afresh. We will study the team of Mali and do our best to go further,” the coach said.
Iraq will be without their star striker Mohammed Dawood who has three goals from two matches because of a double booking yesterday.
In his absence regular captain Saif Khalid is likely to start after missing their group stage matches because of a niggle.
“We played the first match without him (Saif) because he had a little injury and then tried to stick with the same side. Maybe, we will need him next match,” Chitheer said.
On risking Dawood by bringing him in the second-half despite a booking, Chitheer said they asked him to be careful and play without any misconduct. “This is football. We will prepare our best. We will do the recovery and correct our mistakes of this match.”
Hailing England’s strong show, the Iraq coach said they lost to a better team. “England were very strong opponents and well organised.
We tried to change our tactics and played with five in defence but after that we went back to 4-2-3-1.
“England were better prepared than us, and deserved to win. Our players were exhausted with the high humidity,” he concluded.