Jorvan Vieira’s side hope to bring more happiness to Iraq with a win over Korea.
|Watch Al Jazeera’s report|
Iraq, against all odds, have made their way through to a historic first Asian Cup final when winning a penalty shoot-out 4-3 over Korea Republic after the sides were locked at 0-0 for 120 minutes of football.
When substitute Kim Jung Woo hit the post with Korea’s fifth penalty attempt, players from both teams fell to the ground and shed tears.
Elated Iraqi players then took flags from the crowd and spent a further 15 minutes on the field along with coach Jorvan Vieira, rejoicing in front of their jubilant fans and then forming a circle and dancing in the middle of the pitch at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium in Kuala Lumpur.
“This victory is for the Iraq people because I think they deserve it, and also for our boys who have worked very, very hard tonight,” Vieira said at the post-match press conference.
“It was a great game, and a game we will never forget.
“To be honest, I am very happy. It’s very difficult to tell you how I feel,” an emotional Vieira added as he choked back tears.
Korea had survived a penalty shoot-out against Iraq’s eastern neighbours Iran on Sunday, but keeper Lee Woon Jae, his side’s hero in the quarter-final, could not repeat the performance as the match literally slipped through his hands.
Lee had Iraq’s third penalty shot, that of Haidar Abdul Amer, in his grasp, only for the slippery ball to slide through his arms and over the line to give the West Asians a lifeline.
|Iraqi’s took to the streets to celebrate [AFP]|
“We have had an exciting match. Three days ago everything was fantastic, today we are very disappointed,” Pim Verbeek, Korea Republic coach, said.
“In the first half we played too many long balls. The second half we played better, but were not sharp, sometimes not lucky, on the final touch.
“I congratulate Iraq, they kept fighting and playing, they did everything to win this game and they can be proud,” added the visibly saddened Dutchman.
“But I’m proud of my players as well. You can’t say they didn’t try their best.”
Both sides had their chances in a mostly open and free-flowing game of football, with the final 0-0 result perhaps a fitting, although frustrating, way to end extra-time.
A familiar tale
However as a third match at the Asian Cup ends in penalties, the Asian Football Confederation would do well to take a leaf out of their South American counterparts’ rulebook for the Copa America, where the shoot-out occurs directly after 90 minutes, thus sparing the players, and fans, the misery of a further half an hour’s play.
Five minutes into the second period of extra-time Lee Chun-soo struck a free kick just over the bar with Sabri making a flying dive and coming down hard against the post, before Hawar Mulla Mohammed flashed a shot straight across the face of goal down the other end.
Iraq hit the post in the 14th minute of extra time after a Mahdi Karim cross saw Lee Woon Jae flapping at the ball and only managing to get a touch to Hawar whose shot from six-yards hit the post and was then cleared off the line by Kim Jin Kyu.
With four minutes remaining in extra-time, substitution Ahmed Menajad beat his marker to send a powerful header straight at Lee from a corner, before Lee Dong Gook sent a curling shot just wide.
Like Lee on Sunday, the player of the match award went to Iraq keeper Noor Sabri, who saved a weak penalty from Korean forward Yeom to set up his side’s eventual shoot-out win.
“Penalties depend on luck, and we were lucky tonight,” a modest Sabri said.
“We are aware of the current situation in Iraq and the difficulties.
“Four days before I came to Bangkok my wife’s brother died, and Hawar Mulla Mohammed (Iraqi midfielder) lost his step-mother,” the 23-year-old added.
“We are struggling in Iraq and we have to struggle to win on the field.
“It’s a small thing we can give them. We have to show them we are fighting.”
Iraq now travel to Jakarta to play Saudi Arabia for the chance to be Asian Cup champions, while Korea will play Japan for third place in Palembang on Saturday.