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Asian football powerhouse Iraq relying on captain Saif Khalid versus two times winners Mexico

Kolkata, Oct 7 (UNI) Aware of Mexican football prowess, Asian champions Iraq are banking
hugely on the performance of their captain Saif Khalid to make or break when the two sides
will lock horns each other in Group F's second match FIFA under-17 at Vivekanda Yuba
Bharati Krirangan (Salt Lake Stadium) here tomorrow.
Khalid, now 17 is the winner of the AFC Championship at the U-14 and U-16 level, is a
key member of the Iraqi U-17 team and wears the captain’s armband.
" We are confident about the battle ahead, and we're ready to show our abilities to the
world and go all the way in this tournament," Khalid said during preparation for his side's
opening game against Mexico.
Mexico winners of 2005 and 2011 and the finalist in 2013, are eyeing the Indian turf for
their historic win in the latest edition.
Lanky Khalid captaining the Iraqi national side since its formation about two years ago.
With a strong personality on the pitch, keen sporting values, and the confidence of his
team-mates, it is no surprise that coach Qahtan Jathir saw in him the attributes needed
to be both a skipper and a leader.
For many of the football frenzy Kolkatans, Iraq stand first among the Asian giants to
lead the challenge from this continent and they know the value of the first game against
Mexico starting at 2000 IST.
Khalid said, "We realise that our competitors in the group have considerable football
experience and history. Mexico are former winners of this title and are always in contention,
which means we’ll need to work even harder. Taking something from this game will open
the door to qualifying for the next round. We're here to compete, not just to play, and we
want to show it."
Khalid plays a key part in executing team tactics, being usually deployed as a box-to-box midfielder and a play-maker. He is, therefore, his team’s engine, with some observers
comparing him to former Iraq international Nashat Akram.
"Akram is my role model in Iraqi football," Khalid explained.
"It was Iraq's participation in the 2007 AFC Asian Cup that opened my eyes to football.
I have very good memories of that tournament, which we won.In that competition, Nashat's performances were unforgettable. He became my role model and I want to follow in his
footsteps," Khalid said.
"On the international stage, I love Xavi, who redefined the personality and performance
of the playmaker as someone who can really orchestrate proceedings and get team-mates
in on goal much faster.He's a great player. I was happy he could watch us playing in the
qualifiers in Qatar," Khalid added.
Khalid began playing football at the age of four before joining local academies to develop
his skills. He currently plays his club football with Al-Talaba and was competing at U-13 level
when he was only 10. He helped the Lions of Mesopotamia win the inaugural AFC U-14
Championship, held in Iran, in 2014
This will be Iraq's second participation at the U-17 World Cup. The first was in the United
Arab Emirates in 2013 when they were eliminated in the first round without a point. And
while history might suggest Iraq will struggle to compete for the title in India, the young
captain sees that as a challenge. "Yes, we know this," he said.
"We're used to it. In the preliminaries two years ago, we defied expectations against good competitors, and we went into the 2016 AFC U-16 Championship with no one tipping us to
reach even the quarter-final.
"These predictions are only theoretical. We receive orders from the coach and work as a
team or even as a family to prove the projections wrong. We went to India for the AFC
Championship intent on first securing a ticket to the World Cup. Once we’d done that, we
then went on to win the title. I believe we proved to ourselves that through hard work, we
can do the impossible. We're determined to repeat this."
As well as the hosts, Iraq must also be delighted that the U-17 World Cup is being held
in India, where they claimed the AFC U-16 title after an epic performance.
"I believe we're used to playing here now," said Khalid. "We battled through a tough
competition last year and won the title, as well as the Fair Play Award. My team-mate
Mohammed Dawood also won the best player award and was the tournament's top scorer.
It was a perfect conclusion. Today, we return to India already familiar with the atmosphere
and the nature of this country. This will certainly help."
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