From the moment he became hooked on football – thanks to Pele’s mesmerizing performances at the 1970 FIFA World Cup – Hussein Saeed had only one ambition: to lead the line for his national team and score goals by the bucket load. It was an ambition he would achieve – and then some.
Saeed won more than 100 caps for his country and scored 78 goals. He remains the record goal-scorer for Iraq – and sits in fifth place on the all-time international goal scorers list. For context, Saeed’s hero Pele scored 77 goals during his career with Brazil.
Twice an Arabian Gulf Cup champion, Saeed has fond memories of the region’s premier international tournament. He was top scorer during Iraq’s victories in 1979 and 1984, while in the latter he was also named the tournament’s best player.
The 61-year-old has come a long way from the streets of Al-Iskan, where he sported a jersey with the number 10 on the back, just like his hero, Pele.
Saeed said: “Football and sport, in general, is a dream for every athlete. It’s able to steer young men away from modern-day problems.”
His love for football matched his skill, which caught the attention of top coaches in Iraq, including Al Talaba’s Jamal Salih and national team boss Ammo Baba.
Saeed added: “I think that football makes people patient, patriotic, creative, well-mannered and forgiving.” At 17, Saeed began his professional journey with Al Talaba. He also turned out for Iraq’s U20 team during his fledgling career and scored twice in the final of the AFC Youth Championship, which Iraq won by beating neighbours Iran in a thrilling final.
Driven by his passion for the game, Saeed was equally motivated by the pride he felt in representing the Lions of Mesopotamia.
He said: “Wearing the Iraq national team’s jersey was a huge honor.”
Yet Saeed’s career-defining moment came at his debut at the Arabian Gulf Cup in 1979. He led his team to victory by scoring ten goals, breaking Kuwait’s four-year streak, and making him the top scorer in the tournament. For the first time, Iraq were champions of the Gulf.
He said: “The Arabian Gulf Cup is one of the most beautiful tournaments which holds many great memories.”
Saeed’s remarkable exploits at the tournament continued in 1982 when he netted five times in four games before Iraq was withdrawn from the event on orders from the government. It meant, unfortunately for Saeed, that his goals were scratched from the record books. Despite the political unrest, Saeed remembers the tournament fondly as one of his best performances.
“One of the most memorable goals I have scored was the one against Saudi Arabia in 1982. I scored with a header in the last few minutes of the match.”
Two years later, Saeed and Iraq reached their peak. Victory in 1984 was delivered by another outstanding display by their leading marksman, who grabbed seven goals and was named player of the tournament.
“I think that the seventh edition in 1984 was the best one, from both a team and personal point of view,” said Saeed.
After disappearing from the tournament for the next two editions, Saeed made his final appearance in the tenth Arabian Gulf Cup in 1990, which was also his last match as a professional. The team withdrew from the competition due to refereeing.
Despite that controversy, Saeed looks back at the period with pride.
“That period was the time of Iraq’s footballing success. We were high achievers in the Gulf Cup. This was a generation filled with achievements, something which cannot be repeated.”
Saeed hopes the latest tournament, which will kick off in Doha on 26 November, will serve to unite the region.
He said: “We hope that this tournament, being held here, brings nations together. Qatar, as we know, welcomes everyone.”
Saeed also looked back on his achievements at Khalifa International Stadium during a visit to the venue in the lead-up to the 24th edition of the Arabian Gulf Cup.
“The stadium is now very different from the ones we used to play in due to the modern innovations which have turned this into a state-of-the-art facility, and one which is a source of pride for all Arab athletes.”
Saeed is already looking forward to enjoying the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 in three years’ time and holds great expectations for the first-ever edition to take place in the Middle East and Arab world.
“Qatar’s vision to host several tournaments was backed by good planning and will,” said Saeed.
“There is a lot of hard work and effort involved to host these international tournaments. To host the World Cup in 2022 is a huge honor.”
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