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Assyrians Could have Won the World Cup. Really!
By: Ashur Sada. June 1st, 2005


It is true that Assyrians haven't had a country since 612 B.C, but that doesn't mean they haven't been inspired to do some really creative and excel at many things, especially in playing soccer. Yes that is right, Assyrians have produced some great players throughout the years, since the late 30s and until now.  In fact, and this may sound a bit too magnifying, Assyrians could well have been crowned, World Cup winners, had the conditions been there for them. Let me elaborate!

In the 1950s and 60s, the Iraqi soccer stage was filled with Assyrian players, representing Iraq at both, the club and the international levels. Ask virtually any Assyrian from Iraq, and chances are they know who Ammo Baba is, one of the several Iraqi-Assyrian soccer legends, who played for Iraq, and some even coached after retiring from playing.  In addition to Ammo Baba, many other names come to mind including Youra Eshaya, Gewargis Ismail, Albert Khoshaba, Shedrak Yousif, Douglas Aziz, Gilbert Sammy, Aram Karam, Ayoub Odisho. And let us not forget Basil Giwargis and Akram Ammanouel from the 80s and the 90s.

In fact, Assyrians were not only great players, but theyalso  helped Iraq in accomplishing a lot on the international stage. For example, Ammo Baba was the coach who took Iraq to the World Cup finals in Mexico in 1986. In fact, he is the only one who has done this great accomplishment for Iraq. Iraq is yet to make it back at the World Cup ever since then. Basil Giwargis is another Assyrian who made a name for himself, as being the only Assyrian to ever play in the World Cup, and that was in 1986 as well under Ammo Baba. In other words, the only Iraqi team that made it to the world cup finals had both, an Assyrian player and an Assyrian coach. Not bad huh?



But going back to the golden generation of the 50s and 60s, we see that this wasn't just a generation, but a special generation.  It is a generation that has, forever, stamped its mark on Iraqi soccer.  Those Assyrian players of then, not only represented Iraq at the international level, but were also able to play professionally for European based clubs; including some major English teams. There was times when virtually ever member of the Iraqi team was an Assyrian! Which brings us to a famous and funny incident which happened in the 1950s, when Egypt was due to play Iraq in a friendly match.  As the players were lining up, before the start of the game, the Assyrian players were conversing in Assyrian amongst themselves.  The Egyptian players looked very puzzled as they listened, as the language being spoken wasn't Arabic. One of the players then had to ask: "are we really playing the Iraqi team?"

Having said all this, Assyrians of course never won the world cup or any other major tournaments, for some obvious reasons; how would they win the world cup, if they don't have a country to play under its name? second, although most of the  great Assyrian players played in the 50s and 60s, there was never an era where most of the great players were all playing together. For example, if we were lucky enough to have Ammo Baba, Shedrak Yousif, Douglas Aziz, Youra, Basil Giwargis, Ayoub Odisho, Akram Ammanouel, all playing in the same era, make no mistake about it, that team would have been a team to remember forever.  It would be our own version of Brazil of 1970; considered by many to be the greatest team ever assembled in soccer.

Unfortunately, the above is all history now. Every name mentioned above is retired and for a long time now. Some of them are diseased, have retired, or are still involved with the game in some shape or form. Ammo Baba for example is still involved with Iraqi soccer and is in charge of youth programs. Basil Giwargis lives in Toronto, Canada and has been involved with coaching and managing local Assyrian teams.  Akram Ammanouel, the last known Assyrian player to be playing in Iraq, retired from playing in 2001. He played for close to 15 years for the Air Force club, and helped it to win many titles. He also played for the Iraqi national team from 1991 to 1994. Looking at Iraqi national teams these days, one can only wonder about why there is not even one Assyrian name on them. Neither on the national level, nor on the local clubs level! Sad indeed and is analogous to looking at Serie A in Italy in 20 years from now and seeing no Brazilians playing for any teams!




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