29 July, 2007

Iraq win first-ever Asian Cup title

Iraq : 1

Saudi Arabia : 0

Skipper Younis Mahmoud's thumping headed goal crowned Iraq as the Asian Cup champions for the first time with a stirring 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia in the final here Sunday.

Mahmoud rammed home the 71st-minute header off a Hawar Mohammed corner for the only goal in the fiercely-contested all-Arab final over the three-time champion Saudis in a seething Gelora Bung Karno Stadium.

The Saudis had been bidding to become the first four-times winners of the tournament but Iraq, riding a wave of global sentiment, upset the hot-favourites for a rare slice of sporting glory.

The win is the pinnacle of a fairytale run to the title by the Iraqis, who were forced to prepare for the tournament outside their homeland as a result of the continuing security situation in their homeland.

Saudi Arabia had been the best attacking team in the tournament, scoring 12 goals on their way to the final, but could not find a way past the Iraqis, who had the best defence in the competition, conceding just two goals in six matches.

Few people had given Iraq any chance of winning the tournament after a haphazard preparation brought about by the war at home and facing opponents who were appearing in their sixth final in 23 years.

Iraq were forced to train and play their qualifiers in neutral countries and their coach, Brazilian coach Jorvan Vieira, who said he planned to quit after the match, only had two months to mould a team that included Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish players.

None of the Iraqi players have been untouched by the war and although they have tried to mask their grief, there were constant reminders of the sectarian violence at home.

At least three players in the squad have lost relatives in the past two months and all the players wore black armbands during the final in memory of the 50 people killed by suicide bombers after Wednesday's semi-final win over South Korea.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who was at the Gelora Bung National Stadium for the final, said Iraq's achievement had inspired millions and was proof of sport's unique power to unite people in the most desperate circumstances.



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