|The 'Lions of Mesopotamia' jog during warm up before the July 29 final in Jakarta [AFP]|
Iraq continue to keep their Asian Cup dream alive as they settle in Indonesia, the third country they have had to play in, ahead of their meeting with three-time champions Saudi Arabia in the final on Sunday.
The players sang songs together on the team bus as they travelled to Friday night training, then continued their relaxed preparation with a playful kick-around before coach Jorvan Vieira put them through their paces in a session that was left open to the media for the duration.
It has become increasingly obvious that the Iraq contingent are well aware that they are the centre of footballing attention right now, and they are doing absolutely everything to expose their proud journey of victory and unity on what has been remarkable run to the final.
At Saturday's pre-match press conference Vieira took centre stage and thanked the media for their continued support of the Iraqi team, before start striker and captain Younis Mahmoud sauntered in 15 minutes late and took a seat without his coach even knowing.
Win or lose in tomorrow night's match, the Iraq players and staff know they have already captured the attention of many people worldwide in the face of heavily publicised adversity at home.
"I hope my boys can continue how they have played throughout the tournament," Vieira said.
"They deserve to be in the final.
"All of you have hard things in your life. We have had so many problems, but I hope the prize comes tomorrow, Inshallah."
|Viera and his players have achieved a |
lot together in a short time [AFP]
Vieira, who will match wits with fellow Brazilian coach Helio Cesar dos Anjos on Sunday, only took over as Iraq national coach two months before the Asian Cup began, and has achieved as much on the field as off it in his short spell.
"I think I've accomplished what I promised to the Iraq people, which was to put more smiles on their lips and to give them more happiness," Vieira said.
"Tomorrow will just compliment what we have already achieved."
Victory celebrations in Iraq have been marred by further bombings and killings as partying fans are seen as 'easy targets' for those who continue to disrupt the futile peace process in the troubled country.
"We can't say it hasn't affected us, not only the players but me as well because I am part of the family now," said Vieira.
"It is sad because now is a time to commemorate, not a time to die."
It is already a certainty that a West Asian nation and a Brazilian coach will win the final, something that Vieira was very proud of, even though he said he wasn't well acquainted with his opposing manager.
"Whether Mr Elio or I win, there is only one winner and that is Brazil," the 54-year-old said.
"I don't know him very well. I know he has worked with many Brazilian clubs, and he doesn't know me as I have been out of Brazil for 30 years."
Already a crowd favourite, and verging on being Iraq's first national hero for quite some time, Vieira has been coy on his coaching future which is rumoured not to include the 'Lions of Mesopotamia'.
|Vieira, right, will match wits with fellow |
Brazilian Helio Cesar dos Anjos [AFP]
"I signed for this tournament, that's all," Vieira said abruptly.
"I only took the contract because it was for two months, and so I could put the Asian Cup on my CV. Now I'm in the final," he added, smiling.
For all his eccentricity it is obvious Vieira sees himself as a great tactician, motivator, and planner, as explained by his map to the final which was set out in the early stages of the campaign.
"We knew what we wanted from the beginning," Vieira said.
"I put out a training schedule when we first met with the team in Oman.
"That included training times, lunch times, medical schedule, and so on. It went right through to Jakarta," he explained.
"We believe in what we do."
Many are hoping the Iraqi belief is there one more time, at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta on Sunday night.