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Iraq Completes Fairytale at Soccer Asian Cup
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Iraq produced a truly inspiring moment in sports by winning the 2007 Asian Cup with a 1-0 victory over Saudi Arabia in yesterday's final in Jakarta, providing a beacon of hope for a nation riven by war.

A squad drawn together in ad-hoc circumstances from all parts of the Gulf, and with its players straddling the bitter and violent ethnic divides, somehow conjured an historic triumph against the odds.

And it was no lucky win. Iraq dominated the final against a heavily favored Saudi Arabia, a three-time Asian Cup champion.

At the final whistle, captain and goal scorer Younis Mahmoud sprinted across the pitch with his elated teammates in pursuit before they collapsed into a pile, overwhelmed with their achievement.

Iraq started the brighter and Mahmoud came close to opening the scoring in the eighth minute when his overhead kick of a cross from the right went narrowly wide of the post.

Midway through the half, Karrar Jassim Mohammed went even closer for Iraq when he beat two opponents while hemmed to the byeline, and his shot from a tight angle was accurate, forcing Saudi goalkeeper Yasser al-Mosailem into a smart save.

Saudi Arabia finally conjured a decent chance in the 44th as star striker Yasser al-Qahtani charged at goal only to shoot over the bar under pressure.

Iraq began the second half still showing more initiative than a Saudi side that appeared confused by its failure to impose its attacking game.

Still Saudi Arabia had the first opportunity midway through the second half, with a long-range shot by Taisir al-Jassam forcing an acrobatic save out of Iraqi goalkeeper Noor Sabri.

After a quiet start to the second half, that thrust prompted a flurry of penetrative attacks at both ends.

Firstly, Mahmoud's low shot was blocked by al-Mosailem, who sprung to his feet to then deny Nashat Akram's firm shot from the rebound.

With the crowd of about 60,000 roaring on their every forward thrust, the Iraqis had another chance when Mahmoud headed narrowly wide, and as Saudi Arabia whisked it up the other end, Malek Maaz also went close to a breakthrough.

Then in the 71st came the goal that will long live on in Iraq folklore. A corner by Hawar Mulla Mohammed was floated high to the far post. Al-Mosailem came for the ball and flapped at it without making any contact, presenting a simple chance for an unmarked Mahmoud to nod in the go-ahead goal.

Al-Mosailem redeemed himself in the 77th to preserve a one-goal deficit, when Nashat played a throughball to put Mahmoud one-on-one with the Saudi keeper, who came quickly off his line to smother the shot.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office announced that each player on the Iraqi team would receive US$10,000 for their achievements.

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.

(Shanghai Daily July 30, 2007)

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