Kuala Lumpur: For over a decade, striker Younis Mahmoud headlined a generation of Iraqi players that has performed beyond expectation at the highest level in Asia, climaxing in 2007 with country's first ever AFC Asian Cup triumph.
There are few images more iconic in Asian football: with his mouth wide open in a celebratory roar, Younis Mahmoud hoisting the AFC Asian Cup trophy high into the Jakarta night sky as Iraq completed a remarkable triumph over Saudi Arabia in the final of the 2007 championship.
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Career Defining Moment
Mahmoud’s towering header – his fourth goal of the tournament – secured Iraq’s first-ever AFC Asian Cup title and it remains a totemic moment in the history of not only of the striker’s career or in the pantheon of his own nation, but of the Asian game.
The then 29-year-old had earned himself a reputation as one of the deadliest strikers in Asia, and he cemented his position among Asia’s most feared forwards ever, even after retirement.
However, despite a career that had seen him win the AFC Asian Cup, reach the semi-finals of the 2004 Olympic Games and win just about every piece of silverware available in his adopted home of Qatar – where he played professionally from 2004 till 2013, most successfully with Al Gharafa but also with Al Khor, Al Arabi and Al Wakra – Mahmoud retired before he could help steer Iraq to the Finals of the FIFA World Cup for only the second time in their history.
While Mahmoud achieved much in his career, the other glaring omission from his resume aside from an appearance at the Finals of the FIFA World Cup, comes due to his reluctance to play outside the Middle East region.
Although Mahmoud spent over eight seasons in Qatar after joining Al Khor from Al Talaba in his homeland, there has long been a sense of what might have been about his career after he turned down opportunities in the afterglow of the 2007 AFC Asian Cup win to make a move to France.
“Marseille and Lyon came to try to take me to Europe but I didn’t go and everyone asks me why? It was because I didn’t understand the outside world.
“We had problems in Iraq, and one was that we only had two television channels and now it’s different and I can stay in my room and I know what happens in America and everywhere. But before I was afraid. I was worried about not being able to talk, about whether I could eat. Now it’s easy but then it was a problem and that’s why I didn’t go," says Mahmoud.
“But now all the time I think, my God why didn’t I go! When I played with (former Lyon and Brazil midfielder) Juninho Pernambucano he said it was normal that I go. He said I could play in Europe easily, but I was worried about not being able to speak the language and eat the food. This was my problem.”
The Iraq legend hung up his boots in 2016 and the legacy he's built will long be admired by both Iraqi supporters and others who witnessed him shock the continent's defences throughout a successful 17-year career.
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