Iraq lift maiden Asian Cup

Jakarta, July 29:

Iraq provided an inspiring moment in sports by winning the 2007 Asian Cup with a 1-0 victory over Saudi Arabia in Sunday’s final, a beacon of hope for a nation divided 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 extraordinary triumph over the odds. And it was no lucky win. Iraq dominated against a heavily favoured Saudi Arabia, a three-time champions. 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.

With the crowd of about 60,000 roaring on their every forward thrust, the Iraqis had another chance when Mahmoud headed narrowly wide.

Then in the 72nd minute came the goal that will long live on in Iraq folklore. A corner by Hawar Mulla Mohammed was floated high to the far post. Saudi goalkeeper Yasser 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.

An inspired Iraq continued to push forward, and only in the last five minutes did they put men behind the ball, clinging on desperately as Saudi Arabia probed for the equaliser to no avail.