Spanish club Sevilla has won fame for winning the Europa League, Europe's second-string club tournament, five times in the past decade and a half. While the Spaniards became probably the most important power in medium-level European football, over in Iraq there is a club following their footsteps.
Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya is a true phenomenon. The oldest club in Iraqi football is on the rise. After winning the AFC Cup, Asia's equivalent of the Europa League, in 2016 and 2017, the club from the Rusafa, Baghdad is running rampant.
The Iraqi football scene is one of the most unpredictable and unorganized in the world, and Al-Jawiya is making the most of it. Together with an Iraqi FA Cup in 2016 and a local championship title in 2017, the club eyed a fifth major title in just three years.
In the past weekend, history has been made. On Saturday night, Iraqi club Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya has won their third consecutive AFC Cup trophy and set a record for Asia’ second most important club competition.
This time Al-Jawiya was not the Cinderella that reached the final as they were in the past two tournaments, but their opponent was - Altyn Asyr, a club from Turkmenistan, who became the first Turkmen representative ever to reach a continental final. Though, the fans in Basra, who are known for their passion for football, were all about watching an Iraqi team triumphing.
The stadium was filled with 25,000 spectators, who saw Hammadi Ahmed adding another goal to his charts, in the first half. The young midfielder Ibrahim Bayesh notched a superb header in the second half and Al-Soqoor has beaten the surprising Turkmenistanis 2-0.
Ahmed won the tournament’s MVP awards for the second consecutive year. "All we want is to show respect for Iraq, the Iraqi fans, and that the world would know that there is also normal life in the country," he said in an interview after the game. "We want to be a country like all others, to host in our home in such atmosphere. Next year, Inshallah, we'll do it in Baghdad at the ‘People's Stadium’. Allah Akbar".
The festivities were big but much more relaxed than the previous two AFC Cups the team has celebrated. With five titles in four years, with a record of three successive AFC Cup wins, Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya has become a true middle-class brand in Asian football.
Many fans are already demanding that the Asian Football Association should allow Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya to play in the Champions League next season. Although they deserve it, it is doubtful whether it will happen, as Iraq has a long way to go, mainly administratively, before it can host league games for champions in the country.
Iraq remains devastated by war, with a citizenry striving for normality amid the rubble and with militias on the rampage, not to mention the military intervention of several regional and global powers. Football might not solve any of these problems, but it definitely makes people feel better, even if just for a moment. For this, Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya’s achievement is simply epic.
Nevertheless, a team from a war-torn country such as Iraq, reaching sportive peaks like this one, is a remarkable one. Not for nothing, Al-Jawiya is being referred to as the 'Iraqi Sevilla’. Or should we call them - the 'Iraqi Real Madrid' - the only club in the world, who won three consecutive continental titles in the past three years, except them?
Let’s keep this nickname when Al-Soqoor hit the grounds of the Asian Champions League.