Saudi Arabia to meet Iraq in Asian Cup final

Kuala Lumpur, July 25:

Iraq stunned South Korea 4-3 on penalties today and Saudi Arabia upset defending champions Japan 3-2 to set up an Asian Cup final.

It is Iraq’s first-ever major final and sparked wild celebrations in Baghdad, while the Saudis atoned for the last tournament in China in 2004 when they failed to make the decider for the first time in 20 years. They meet in Jakarta on Sunday while Japan and South Korea will tour Indonesia on Saturday for third-place decider.

Iraq’s epic match went to a shootout after both sides failed to score in over two hours’ of sustained committed football. The decisive breakthrough came when goalkeeper Noor Sabri pushed Yeom Ki-hun’s spot kick past the post and then Kim Jung-woo’s shot hit the upright and bounced away.

Iraq are now just one match away from completing their greatest football achievement. The victory sparked a barrage of gunfire in the Iraqi capital, as security forces, militant groups, insurgents and residents put aside their differences and fired skywards.

It was desolation for the Koreans who have now failed to make the final since 1988. Iraq had the better scoring chances in the first 45 minutes but it was largely Korea in the second period until they tired in extra-time.

The Iraqi were unlucky not to seal the victory then. Hawar Mohammed had a great chance when Haidar Abdul Amer’s cross had the Korean defence in a dither and Hawar’s shot hit the inside of the post and rolled along the goal-line.

In Hanoi, Saudi Arabia reached the final for the sixth time in seven tournaments with a win over Japan. Malek Maaz netted a brace with strike partner Yasser Al Qahtani also scoring.

The opening goal came on 35 minutes. Adulrahman Al Qahtani won a free-kick and Taisir Al Jassam rose to meet his cross and the ball dropped to Yasser Al Qahtani who needed no second invitation to rifle home. Japan levelled two minutes later through Yuji Nakazawa.

Saudis broke the deadlock two minutes after the restart. Taisir Al Jassam released Ahmed Al Bahri down the right and his pinpoint cross was headed home by Maaz. Once again it took a goal to awake the Japanese and they drew level again after another six minutes when Nachiro Takahara rose to head back Endo’s corner for Yuki Abe to volley home.

On 57 minutes the Saudis went in front again through Maaz, who twisted and turned two defenders before finishing with the outside of his boot.