Tehran: Ahmed Yasin has insisted that despite the fact Iraq have not been able to match their expectations on the Road to Russia, the team can one day become one of the best in Asia.
Iraq suffered three defeats from three as their FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 campaign got off to the worst possible start, although late winners from Saudi Arabia and Japan left the West Asians feeling desperately unlucky.
Fortunes have been somewhat reversed since with a 4-0 victory over Thailand and a 1-1 draw with Australia, in which Yasin scored, meaning the 2007 AFC Asian Cup champions have picked up four points from four games although it proved too little too late with elimination having now been confirmed.
“We haven’t done what we wanted to do and qualify for the World Cup,” said Yasin, whose side will take on Group B table-toppers Japan on Tuesday.
“But in the last three games we need to give the fans something back and hopefully we’re going to win some of them and make them proud.
“We have a very good team with a lot of good players. It will take some time but it will get to the point when we are 100% and I think we will be one of the best teams in Asia.”
Yasin is one of several Europe-based players in the Iraq squad, having been born in Baghdad but raised in Sweden, where he has played the majority of his club football.
The attacking midfielder recently had a three-month loan spell with Muaither SC in Qatar but following the game with Japan will return to Sweden, where he believes his upbringing helped him develop different qualities to those of his peers.
“I’ve got a Swedish mentality; I’m a calm person and don’t think too much about what is going on around me,” admitted Yasin. “I’m focused on one thing and that is what I’m doing now.
“[In Sweden], you start to play for a team when you are very young but players in Iraq don’t start until they are 15 or 16. I think I learned the basics of football at an early age but my teammates didn’t.”
Iraq made their only appearance at the FIFA World Cup back in Mexico in 1986, when three narrow defeats saw them finish bottom of a group comprising the hosts, Paraguay and Belgium.
Yasin maintains the hope of being part of the second team from Iraq to reach the global showpiece and, although he admits there are a number of obstacles to overcome, believes that the dream could one day become a reality.
“It’s hard because first of all we don’t play at home in front of all our fans, so that’s one of the biggest difficulties,” added Yasin. “We go and play in Australia or Saudi Arabia and they have 50,000 people cheering for them.
“I know if we play in Iraq we will have 60,000 in the stadium and 10,000 outside because football is the biggest sport there and we are the ones that can make them happy.
“If we can play our World Cup qualification matches at home, from there anything is possible, so let’s start there and see what happens.”
Photos: Lagardère Sports