During the COVID-19 lockdown, I sat down to write a book about Iraqi football history.
In fact, it was three books.
The result was the trilogy of “Birth of the Lions of Mesopotamia: The Early Years of Football in Iraq” (2020); “Lions of Mesopotamia: Iraqi football in the two republics Vol. I” (2021); and “Lions of Mesopotamia: Iraqi Football in the Two Republics Vol. II” (2021).
On October 2, exactly two years to the day after the publication of my first book, I published my fourth book, “Away From War and Politics: The Story of Iraq’s Cup Victory Asia in 2007”.
Even as I edited my second and third books, the idea of writing a book about the 2007 Asian Cup triumph had always been on my mind, as it was one of the greatest sporting achievements of Iraq.
These days, when people talk about Iraqi football, this amazing achievement is the first thing that pops up.
In 2018, when I started researching my book about the 1951 Iraqi first team, I asked respected Asian football journalist John Duerden if he could think of a publisher who would be interested. He suggested starting with “the era of Saddam, winning the Asian Cup in 2007 and the problems following the invasion” and then including details of the 1951 Iraqi team as a background. historical map.
Four years later, and that’s more or less what I’m done. The story of 2007 is one that inspires.
Six months after speaking to Duerden, I sat down with Hassanane Balal of the Iraqi Football Podcast and former US Army Sergeant turned journalist Adam Linehan at an Iraqi restaurant in London to discuss the 2007 Asian Cup and the stories behind the tournament.
Linehan, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq as an army medic, had been intrigued by the story of Iraq’s victory in Jakarta and was determined to make a documentary about it, in which I got involved and which should be out soon. coming.
Iraq’s Asian Cup victory in 2007 is the ultimate sports underdog story – the story of a football team from a war-torn country winning against all odds.
But there is more than that.
The world only sat up and took notice of this Iraqi team after beating South Korea on penalties in the semi-finals, but the team’s story was multi-faceted and had started many years earlier.
The seeds of the ‘Lions of Mesopotamia’ were sown in 1998, under the reign of Saddam Hussein, as an under-17 team, and their path to that final in 2007 was strewn with pitfalls. The players had to endure the challenges of representing the national team at international level and the greatest hardships of the American occupation which turned their lives upside down.
On the eve of the final, the Iraqi FA appointed a new coach in Brazilian Jorvan Vieira, who no one had ever heard of before, after the team’s coach was sacked and three players suspended in the wake of a controversial match-fixing scandal at the Gulf Cup four months earlier.
The book details how the team developed, and the stories and incidents that accompanied them before, during and after the 2007 Asian Cup.
I look at the era of Saddam, his son Uday and how he first got involved in football, and what happened to football in Iraq after the 2003 war. There are funny stories, controversies , stories of corruption, the Iraqi Balotelli and many more that I think people will find interesting, giving them an extra layer to victory in 2007.
I also wanted to document the stories of players, like Nour Sabri and Nashat Akram, Hawar Mohammed, and former Iraqi army conscript Younis Mahmoud. Together they would become the first Iraqi team known as the “Lions of Mesopotamia”, having won an unlikely triumph during one of Iraq’s most turbulent times, uniting the nation along the way.
This book was different from the other three, mainly because the 2007 Asian Cup is still a vivid, somewhat recent memory, and having experienced it myself, it was easier to remember certain incidents and events. I could also go back to the notes I jotted down in the tournament 15 years ago, compared to the first three books that took place 70 years ago.
A decade and a half later, the victory in 2007 remains an incredible story.
It’s hard to express how divided the Iraqi team was just two days before the opening game. I’ve written an entire chapter about what happened and it continues to amaze me how the players, the coach and the FA turned it around.
The book is 536 pages, but I wanted it to start at the very beginning, when the team was first formed, and end after what became known as “The Miracle in Jakarta”, and I think people will understand why.
It signifies the end of a cycle and gives the full story of the 2007 Asian Cup triumph and the Iraqi team, both an important part of the history of Iraqi football and that of the country and his people as a whole.