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Iraq: Now For The Good News…

Iraq reached their first Asian Cup final on Wednesday night, beating South Korea 4-3 on penalties in a pulsating semi-final that ended goalless after extra time. Noor Sabri was Iraq's hero when he saved Korea's fourth spot-kick from Yeom Ki-hun. … Read More

By / July 25, 2007


Iraq reached their first Asian Cup final on Wednesday night, beating South Korea 4-3 on penalties in a pulsating semi-final that ended goalless after extra time.

Noor Sabri was Iraq's hero when he saved Korea's fourth spot-kick from Yeom Ki-hun. After Ahmed Menajed had made it 4-3 to the West Asians, Korean Kim Jung-woo hit the post to send the Iraqi players into raptures.

This won't mean much to many Jewcy readers, but believe me, for the Iraqi people (who are, on the whole, big soccer fans) this is a very big deal indeed. From Reuters:

Iraq goalkeeper Noor Sabri saved Korea's fourth spot-kick and was named man of the match.

"I would like to congratulate all my people in Iraq for this great victory," he said. "We know the current situation in Iraq and the difficulties.

"We know we are struggling inside Iraq and we have to struggle on the field," Noor added. "This is a very modest thing we can give to our people."

No-one needs reminding of the myriad ways in which Iraq is screwed up right now, but sport is one small area in which we can all agree that things have most definitely improved since the old days.

The Iraqi football team – I'm switching to the sport's proper name, I've pandered enough – and the country's Olympic Committee were both run by the delightful Uday Hussein from 1986 until 2003, and his stewardship was pretty brutal. If Iraq lost – as they often did – players and athletes could expect to be beaten on the soles of their feet, locked up for days, have their heads shaved and even have the honour of Uday coming by their cells to urinate on them. When Iraq failed to qualify for USA '94, indeed, the players were forced to kick a concrete ball around as punishment. (If I were being flippant, I might wish that Scottish players were presented with the same incentives.) 

They'll play either Japan or Saudi Arabia in the final on Sunday, and will be underdogs no matter what. Ivica Osim's Japanese side could certainly tell these pampered post-Saddam Iraqis a thing or two about the perils of underperforming; after they opened their tournament with a miserable 1-1 draw with minnows Qatar, the Bosnian coach let fly with a dressing-room tirade that apparently reduced his translator to tears.

Who'd be a professional sportsman?

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