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Iraq's Soccer Success a Boon for War-torn Country's Olympic Team
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Iraq's fairytale win at the Asian Cup soccer tournament last month has inspired support for the war-torn nation and given the country's Olympic prospects a shot in the arm.


The unlikely victory, the first Asian Cup the beleaguered state has won, has raised hopes it will win its first gold medal in Beijing next August.


"I am looking forward to the Beijing Olympic Games," Iraqi Olympic Committee director general Tiras Odisho Anwaya said in Beijing.


"It is our fourth Olympic Games. I hope we will have the best team for the Beijing Games and also for the future competitions.


"Everyone who wins a gold in Beijing will be awarded US$15,000 by our committee. Of course there will be other awards from international supporters.


"But it is more important for as many Iraqi athletes to take part in the Olympics."


Iraq's surprising soccer success was widely hailed and welcomed in China, where companies offered financial support as a reward for the team's tremendous spirit in the face of great adversity.


Leading sportswear maker Peak recently announced it had formed a partnership with the Iraqi Olympic Committee to support the country's team ahead of next year's event.


"Every Iraqi who comes to Beijing is a hero even without winning," Anwaya said.


"Had the security situation been better, and players not been bothered by old equipment or few places to train, Iraqi athletes would have played even better.


"But I am so glad lots of people are supporting the team in different ways.


"Support from Peak company covers all our sports players and will definitely benefit our Olympic teams greatly."


Peak will provide uniforms and fund training venues and the purchase of equipment that currently lacked by Iraqi athletes.


And Peak was not the only sponsor to come out of the woodwork following Iraq's shock Asian Cup glory.


The team, who defied the odds to beat four-time champions Saudi Arabia in the final, was awarded 20 million dirhams (US$5.45 million) by United Arab Emirates vice-president and Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum.


Iraqi soccer players were forced to train and play qualifiers in neutral countries, while their coach, Brazilian coach Jorvan Vieira, had just two months to mould a team.


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.


Iraq's only Olympic medal was a weightlifting bronze at the 1960 Rome Games.


Iraqis competed in seven sports at the 2004 Olympics, including weightlifting, wrestling, boxing, taekwando, swimming, track and field and soccer.


But it was the Olympic soccer team that stunned the world when it finished fourth after losing the bronze medal to Italy in a playoff.


This was a phenomenal result for the surprise starter after it cobbled together a team amid conflict at home that included a struggle to rebuild an Olympic committee.


(China Daily August 17, 2007)

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