Man Utd’s Zidane Iqbal set for Iraq debut in Iran

Manchester United teenager Zidane Iqbal will be called up by Iraq and is set to be handed a testing international debut away at Iran next week, Sky Sports News understands.

Sky Sports News last year revealed England face the prospect of missing out on Iqbal with Iraqi football chiefs keen to secure the 18-year-old’s services at senior international level. Iqbal has previously captained and scored for Iraq’s U23s.

The Manchester-born midfielder is eligible to represent England, Iraq and Pakistan at international but has never been called up to an England age-group squad. He will now join the Iraq squad for their World Cup qualifiers against Iran and Lebanon.

Both matches are away, and Iqbal faces the most exacting of international debuts against Iraq’s long-term rivals Iran at Tehran’s formidable Azadi Stadium next Thursday, where he could line up against former Brighton winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Newcastle-linked striker Sardar Azmoun. Iraq travel to Beirut to play Lebanon five days later.

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Iqbal paid tribute to his friends, family and coaches on social media after becoming the first British South Asian footballer in United’s history

Iqbal is expected to link up with the Iraq squad for the World Cup qualifying double-header after the national team’s home friendly with Uganda on Friday.

Iraq and Iran have a complicated history with a football rivalry dating back 60 years when the two teams played out a 1-1 draw in Tehran in 1962. The two sides have met on 30 previous occasions, with Iran winning 17 and Iraq winning six, with seven draws.

Iran won the reverse fixture between the two sides 3-0 last September in a match that was played on neutral ground in Qatar at Doha’s Khalifa International Stadium, which will host matches at the World Cup later this year.

Iqbal made history last month when he appeared in the Champions League game against Young Boys to become the first British South Asian to play for Manchester United. Iqbal came on in the closing stages of the Group F encounter, replacing England international Jesse Lingard as a late substitute.

Speaking to MUTV after the game, Iqbal said: „It feels amazing, I’ve been working my whole life for this opportunity, it’s a dream come true, it’s just the start and hopefully I can keep pushing on.

The teenager scored for the club’s youngsters against Sunderland in the EFL Trophy in November, and followed that up by netting United’s opener in their 4-2 UEFA Youth League win against Italian side Atalanta.

‘Hungry’ Markanday at Rovers for first-team football

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Blackburn manager Tony Mowbray says new signing Dilan Markanday has got what it takes to become a fans’ favourite at Ewood Park

Iqbal won a penalty for United U23s in a 1-1 home draw against Tottenham last week, with Dilan Markanday scoring a late equaliser for the visitors in a game which proved to be his last in a Spurs shirt.

Sky Sports News exclusively revealed Barnet-born Markanday had rejected a contract offer from Spurs and was set to join promotion-chasing Blackburn, with the Hindu-Punjabi forward this week signing an initial three-and-a-half-year deal at Ewood Park.

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Blackburn Rovers integration and development manager Yasir Sufi explains why the club’s diversity and inclusion work is so important

Blackburn manager Tony Mowbray told reporters Markanday has been signed for the first-team, with the 20-year-old becoming the first British South Asian footballer to play for Rovers in the club’s 147-year history when he came on in the second half of Wednesday’s 2-0 loss at Hull for his first taste of senior league football.

„He fits the profile of young, talented hungry players [that we are looking for],“ Mowbray said. „He left his club to try and play football and really get his career started.“

„He’s a nice boy and his family are lovely people. I’m sure he’ll fit into the culture of this club and hopefully he can hit the ground running. We’ve been watching him for quite a while, he’s been on our radar a long time, and the opportunity has arisen, and we’ve taken it.“

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Asked if Markanday has been earmarked for the first team, Mowbray said: „Yeah, and that’s why he is here. I think he is exciting but I don’t want to overburden him, I just want him to come, play, and do what he does – he’s very direct and positive and he knows where the back of the net is.

„Thankfully for us, he is a permanent signing, and we’re very hopeful that in the future, whether it be short-term but definitely longer-term, that he becomes very much a fans’ favourite and scores goals and does well for the team.“

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Markanday, who scored in the very first game to be played at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in March 2019, has scored 12 goals in 14 Premier League 2 fixtures this seen and is one of the country’s most promising British South Asian footballers.

He now looks set to line up against one of the country’s most experienced British South Asian players, Neil Taylor, when Blackburn host Middlesbrough on Monday night, live on Sky Sports.

Wales international Taylor, whose mother is Bengali, recently extended his Boro contract until the end of the season after joining on an initial one-month deal.

‘Sunderland is a juggernaut of a football club’

Taylor has now been joined in the North-East by another South Asian heritage player after Danny Batth completed a move from Stoke to Sunderland.

Batth, whose father is from the Indian city of Jalandhar, moves to the Stadium of Light from Stoke, where he made 107 appearances across three seasons

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„I’m very happy that this deal is done because this is a juggernaut of a football club and I’m delighted to be a part of its journey,“ Batth said after joining Sunderland.

„This is the perfect set-up for me. I’m really looking forward to playing in front of the home supporters and I’ve already spoken to the head coach, who has tried to sign me in the past.“

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Danny Batth told Sky Sports News his family went to great lengths to give him the best possible chance of carving out a career in the game

Sunderland head coach Lee Johnson added: „Danny is a player that I’ve tried to sign a couple of times before, so it’s third time lucky. We have some good characters already in place at the football club and you are always looking to nurture leadership qualities, but Danny’s come ready-made.

„A dominant centre-back, he has a great personality and I think he will have really positive effect on and off the pitch.“

Khan joins Leyton Orient

Meanwhile, former Manchester United youngster Otis Khan has joined Leyton Orient on an 18-month contract following the expiry of his short-term deal at Walsall.

Khan, who counts Barnsley, Yeovil, Mansfield and Tranmere among his former clubs, will wear the number 14 shirt for Kenny Jackett’s side.

He said: „The way Kenny wants me to play here suits me down to the ground. I like to get forward, assist, score goals, and help the team any way that I can. It’s a really exciting time.“

British South Asians in Football

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