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By ESPN Staff

Iraq coach fears row will crush World Cup dream

BANGKOK, May 26 (Reuters) - Iraq's national soccer coach urged FIFA and the Iraq government to resolve their dispute and avoid killing his players' dream of reaching the 2010 World Cup finals.

Adnan Hamad, currently in his fourth stint as national team coach, said Iraq's refusal to reinstate its soccer federation and FIFA's hardline stance risked jeopardising the only thing that brought unity to his country.

World soccer's governing body suspended Iraq from international competition on Monday after the Iraqi government dissolved the country's National Olympic Committee and all its national sport federations.

'It's difficult for me and the players - It's our dream to go to the World Cup,' Hamad told Reuters in an interview.

'Now the Iraqi government has made this decision it's become difficult for us. These players won't get another chance to play at the World Cup.

'Politics is stopping them living their dream.'

Iraq's sports minister Jasem Mohammed Jaafar told Reuters in an interview on Sunday that the government 'won't pull back from its decision' to sack its sports committees.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter described the decision as unlawful and said FIFA would have no alternative but to suspend the Asian champions from the 2010 World Cup qualifying competition if Baghdad refused to back down.

War-torn Iraq provided the most unexpected and memorable moment for soccer in 2007 when they triumphed 1-0 over Saudi Arabia in the Asian Cup final in Jakarta. The fairytale victory made headlines around the world and sparked fervent celebrations on the streets of Baghdad.

Hamad is the only man involved in Iraqi soccer who can remember the one and only time the country reached the World Cup finals. He was a member of the side that played in Mexico in 1986.

The Iraqi people were pinning their hopes on reaching the 2010 finals and did not support the government's actions, he said.

'They believe this team is the only thing that can bring the country together,' he added. 'Football success is the only thing that makes them happy.'

The Iraqi team will fly to Brisbane on Tuesday, unsure whether they will have a chance to play next week's World Cup qualifier with Australia.

Iraq are currently bottom of Group 1 and have won only one match since their unexpected Asian Cup triumph in July last year. Hamad still believes his side can make it to South Africa.

'We still have a chance to qualify,' he added. 'This team is definitely good enough.'

Playmaker Nashat Akram, whose move to Premier League Manchester City fell through earlier this year because of work permit problems, said the team and the Iraqi people would suffer because of political squabbling.

'It's a problem between the government and the federation, not us,' Akram told Reuters after a training session in Bangkok.

'We're ready, we just want to play football. The Iraqi people are worrying about the future of our game. We have to forget this and hope we get to play. What can we do?'


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