From Iraqi refugee to football star in Australia

Ali Abbas Seeking asylum was a hard decision, said Ali Abbas

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An Iraqi refugee with a sweet left foot has completed a remarkable journey from the war-scarred streets of Baghdad to one of Australia's most glamorous football clubs.

Ali Abbas, a 25-year old midfielder was a member of Iraq's victorious Asian Cup squad that beat Saudi Arabia 1-0 in July 2007.

Four months later he was to take a decision that was to change his life. He and two Iraqi teammates sought asylum in Australia following an Olympic games qualifier in the city of Gosford 75km north of Sydney.

"In 2007 it was a really bad situation in Iraq. We came here and played against the Olyroos. After we lost I decided to stay here to make my life better than in Iraq," Ali explained to the BBC.

"Like any sportsman, actor or doctor, I couldn't do my job properly because there were too many bad people there. It is not the Iraqi people, they come from outside of the country and that is why I saw my future here (in Australia)."

Ali was granted refugee status and has recently signed a contract with Sydney FC, former winners of the Australian A-League, which has previously boasted within its ranks former Manchester United star Dwight Yorke and Brazilian maestro Juninho.

"It was a hard decision to make (to leave Iraq) and look now I'm really happy and playing for a big club in Australia," he added.

'Massively appealing'

The former Iraqi international's footballing journey at the elite level in Australia began in the industrial city of Newcastle with the Jets in 2009. He has gone on to impress some of the sharpest minds in the game with his tenacity and skill.

The midfielder was the first signing for new Sydney FC coach Ian Crook. The Englishman says Ali Abbas' technical ability and desire to succeed will suit his team's up-tempo style.

Dr Mohamed Al Jabiri Dr Al Jabiri says Ali Abbas can be an example to Iraqis around the world

"He is technically very good, he's got lovely technical ability and he can beat people in one-on-ones and deliver killer passes," Mr Crook said.

"To go through what he put himself through to come here proves to me that he is hungry and desperately wants it. To me that is a massively appealing thing," added the former Spurs and Norwich City mid fielder.

Australia has offered sanctuary to waves of Iraqi refugees, but the transition to a new country and a very different culture is not always easy.

But Dr Mohamed Al Jabiri, a former Iraqi diplomat who went into exile in Australia after being imprisoned by Saddam Hussein, says Ali Abbas is a tremendous role model for other migrants.

"He is very easygoing, very humble. He is a good person from a good background. He has adapted to Australian society and I hope he will not forget he was part of Iraq," Dr Al Jabiri told the BBC at his home in Sydney.

"The Iraqis, my goodness, are so fond of soccer and they are so happy to see their players are achieving fame all over the world," he added.

Asked whether Abbas has the professional qualities to succeed at the highest level, Dr Al Jabiri, a keen follower of the English Premier League, declared: "I think he is like a fine racehorse ready to go the race."

Sydney FC's new Iraqi signing will make his debut for the Sky Blues against the Wellington Phoenix in New Zealand in early October.

Ali's journey took another significant step forward on Australia Day this year, when he became a citizen of his adopted country.

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