Iraq icon Younis Mahmoud dismissed speculation over his retirement and said he was targeting a “dream” World Cup spot after their Asian Cup campaign came crashing to a halt.
Mahmoud, famed for his winning goal in the 2007 final, said he was hoping to lead Iraq’s young players to the 2018 World Cup in Russia and end an absence of 32 years.
The 31-year-old striker remained upbeat despite Iraq’s 2-0 semi-final defeat to South Korea, who swamped the Lions of Mesopotamia at a wet Stadium Australia in Sydney.
“I know they won and went to the final but we won also, we won 20 players — they will benefit the national team for the next 10 years,” Mahmoud told Arabic press late on Monday.
“I think if the same group stays together then our dream will come true and we’ll qualify for the World Cup.”
Iraq have only ever played one World Cup, in 1986, and qualification for Russia 2018 would go down as a major success for the war-weary country.
Despite going clubless for a year, Mahmoud starred with two goals at the Asian Cup and a cheeky ‘panenka’ penalty under intense pressure in the quarter-final shoot-out with Iran.
Mahmoud said he had no thoughts of retirement, adding that he had several club offers on the table and also wanted to help groom Iraq’s new generation.
“I’m not retiring after this Cup. We’re now building a new generation and we need to have experienced players with them in the national team,” Mahmoud said.
“The World Cup qualifiers start in four or five months. Hopefully I’ll be with the team in the World Cup qualifiers.”
“I have several offers, seven in fact, I’m studying them and one of them is from Al Wakrah,” he added, referring to his former club in Qatar.
Whether Iraq retain the services of temporary coach Radhi Shenaishil, who has worked miracles since being loaned for the Asian Cup by Qatar Sports Club, remains to be seen.
But the 45-year-old, brought in as a stop-gap after the axing of Hakim Shakir in November, did not rule out taking up a permanent role after his club stint finishes.
“After my contract ends with the club, I can’t predict my future, so after that I can sit down and discuss my future,” said the Iraqi.
He added: “It’s a young group and we have some talented players. The guys outside of Iraq and the guys playing in Iraq all have bright futures and I’m excited to see what this young group can do.”