|Iraq’s Asian Cup win is their biggest ever national sporting achievement [AFP]|
Iraq have completed a fairytale for the ages with a 1-0 victory over Saudi Arabia in the Asian Cup final, making them worthy first time champions of the continental tournament.
Captain Younis Mahmoud’s goal in the 71st minute was enough to cap a remarkable championship for Iraq as they overcame troubles in preparation, logistical nightmares during the competition, and beat some of the best teams in Asia, all with a backdrop of the ongoing violence in their home country.
It was the ending that most neutrals had been hoping for since Iraq emerged top of Group A after the first round of matches, and fans at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta can say they witnessed an uplifting piece of history.
Waleed Tabra, media officer for the Iraqi national team told Al Jazeera that he couldn’t find the words to describe the joy brought on by the win.
“It is the first time we made it. These are fantastic moments for Iraq football and for all Iraqi people.
“Hundreds of thousands of people in every city are celebrating the victory. My family said it is something unbelievable … People don’t know what to do they’re all crying with happiness.”
|Younes Mahmoud’s header was the winning goal [AFP]|
Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid, in the northern Iraqi Kurdish region in Irbil, said: “The scenes are incredible. I have been in Iraq for more than 15 years, and I have never seen anything like this.
“Traffic is everywhere. It’s extremely meaningful. I spoke to a young boy this morning who said “if only our prime minister would learn from the team”.
“For the past four years they’ve been going through so much hardship. The team have actually been living the same hardship as the people do here.
“They have been riding high on a wave of national support and have made their country’s highest national sporting achievement.
“Iraq has never been in the final and under these extremely difficult circumstances this is the biggest win this nation has ever had.
“It’s quite incredible to see celebrations like this far away from politics.”
Abdul-Ilah As-Saadi, an Iraqi based in Doha, Qatar, said: “It was magic. We could have scored 10 goals. It has brought all Iraqis together, I have been getting calls from all over the world.”
The decisive moment in the match occurred with just under 20 minutes remaining, when Iraq midfielder Hawar Mulla Mohammed sent in a left-foot corner finding an unmarked Younis who made no mistake with his close range header to send the crowd absolutely wild.
Saudi goal keeper Yasser Al Mosailem came out flapping at the deep corner kick and marker Saud Khariri was caught ball watching at the most crucial of times, allowing Younis to ghost in at the far post and score a memorable goal.
“I felt very well today,” Jorvan Vieira, Iraq coach, said after the post-match celebrations.
“I felt a lot of security inside of me that we could do something special.
|The Iraqi team have been riding high on a wave
of national, unified support back home [AFP]
“My players had a lot of confidence that they could do something great for their country.”
In the end, three-time champions Saudi Arabia were totally outplayed by their courageous opponents in what was a fitting finale to end a tournament where the action on the field has been largely entertaining.
Nashat Akram, player of the match, once again starred for his side as he won the midfield with the assistance of Qusai Munir and Mahdi Karim, while Jasim Mohammed, Bassim Abbas and Haider Abdul Amer were solid at the back.
Goal keeper Noor Sabri pulled off some stunning saves, most notably from a cracking shot by Saudi forward Taiseer Al Jassam in the 61st minute, which forced the Mes Kerman keeper into a magnificent diving stop with the ball heading for the back of the net.
Defiance in unity
The battle of the strikers was easily won by Iraq, with Saudi Arabia’s forward pairing of Yasser Al Qahtani and Malek Maaz hardly making an impact, while Younis, the eventual player of the tournament, and Karrar Jassim caused plenty of trouble.
“We had a lot of problems today,” Helio Cesar dos Anjos, Saudi Arabia coach, admitted at the post-match press conference.
“Our team couldn’t play well in the middle, or on the wings, especially due to the quality of Iraq.
“I congratulate all the players and staff of Iraq. I am happy for the people in Iraq, they deserve to be happy,” added the Brazilian.
In the dying seconds, Malek had a chance to equalise when Iraq failed to clear the ball, but his downward header into the ground bounced over the bar, and with the ensuing goal kick Iraq were Asian champions.
Iraq went through undefeated on their way to the title and only conceded two goals in six matches, with impressive wins over Australia, Vietnam, Korea Republic and Saudi Arabia, plus draws against Thailand and Oman.
Vieira, who has endeared himself to the fans, the Iraqi people, and the media during the tournament, confirmed that the lifting of the Asian Cup trophy marks the end of his short time as coach of the Iraq national team.
“This victory is most important for the Iraqi people,” Vieira said.
“Not for me or my CV.
“I will never forget this because it was a special situation in special circumstances,” he added.
“You bring happiness for one country, not just one team.
“That is the most important thing.”