Iraq shouldering burden of war-torn nation

Jakarta, July 28:

Iraq is carrying the hopes of its war-weary people into the Asian Cup final on Sunday, where victory over four-times champions Saudi Arabia stands to trigger wild celebrations in the troubled nation.

Each victory has been greeted by street parties and volleys of celebratory gunfire, but in a grim reminder of the reality facing the country two suicide bombers attacked revelers following the team’s semi-final win on Wednesday, killing at least 50.

Iraq coach Jorvan Vieira said the bombings had affected the team, but “life must continue.” “We have to play tomorrow to be a champion and we hope no one dies,” said the Brazilian.

The team underwent enormous challenges just to reach the tournament, co-hosted by Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia.

Iraqi players have shone in the steaming tropical heat, crushing regional soccer powerhouse Australia 3-1 and reaching the finals by beating fellow giant South Korea in a penalty shootout.

But they are up against a Saudi Arabia team that has scored 17 goals so far and that beat three-times winner Japan 3-2 on Wednesday to reach the final.

Unlike Iraq, the Saudi team has some of the best training facilities in the world and the players, who earn top salaries, often receive gifts of luxury cars and watches from their club.

Iraq’s defense, which has only conceded two goals the whole tournament, will have to be on top form on Sunday to withstand Saudi strikers Yasser Al Qahtani and Malek Maaz.

“Iraq will be very motivated and they have a lot of quality,” said Helio Cesar dos Anjos, who is also Brazilian. Dos Anjos said his young squad would have to play well across the park to beat Iraq.