Mon, Jul 30, 2007 - Page 20 News List

Stunning Iraq win Asian Cup

UNITED BY SOCCER Iraqi soccer captain Younis Mahmoud gave his war-weary countrymen a reason to celebrate yesterday as his headed goal won the Asian Football Cup

AFP , JAKARTA

Iraq's Bassim Abbas, front, and Saudi Arabia's Taiseer al-Jassam compete for the ball during the final match of the Asian Football Cup at the Bung Karno stadium in Jakarta yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

Skipper Younis Mahmoud's thumping headed goal crowned Iraq as the Asian Cup champions for the first time with a stirring 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia in the final yesterday.

Mahmoud rammed home the 71st-minute header off a Hawar Mohammed corner for the only goal in the fiercely contested all-Arab final over the three-time champion Saudis in a seething Gelora Bung Karno Stadium.

The huge roar inside the stadium was no doubt bettered by wildly celebrating supporters back in their war-ravaged homeland where Iraqis risked death to rejoice the unifying triumph of their national soccer team.

Iraq blunted the resistance of the Saudis, who could not counter the determination and steel of their Gulf rivals in the crackling decider to the three-week continental tournament.

Mahmoud's goal came after concerted Iraqi pressure when Hawar's corner directed at the far post went beyond goalkeeper Yaser Al Mosailem and on to the striker's head for a terrific header.

It was Mahmoud's fourth goal to finish joint leading scorer in the tournament with Saudi Arabia's Yasser Al Qhatani and Japan's Naohiro Takahara.

Iraq, who have captivated the soccer world with their inspirational progress at the tournament, finished conceding just two goals in their six games and put a hex on the free-flowing Saudis, who were the leading scorers with 12 goals.

The driven Iraqis have showed great resolve throughout the tournament, crushing Australia 3-1 and negotiating South Korea on penalties in last Wednesday's grueling two-hour semi-final in Kuala Lumpur.

It was a coaching triumph for Brazilian Jorvan Vieira, 54, who only signed a two-month contract with the Iraqi Football Federation and said Saturday he intended to quit the job after accomplishing what he had set out to achieve.

It was a combustible opening 45 minutes with Australian referee Mark Shield issuing five yellow cards -- three to Iraq and two to the Saudis -- as tackles flew in with a take-no-prisoner approach from both teams.

The Iraqi defense handled the twin Saudi threat of Malek Maaz and Yasser Al Qahtani capably with left-back Bassim Abbas having a particularly solid game with his trademark acrobatic overhead clearances.

There was plenty of off-the-ball incidents with defender Ali Hussein Rehema going down clutching his face in the penalty area awaiting a free kick with the referee speaking to Al Qahtani but not taking the matter further.

Iraq, who had the better chances in the fiercely contested exchanges, went very close in the 28th minute when Karrar Jassim wriggled past two defenders and then forced goalkeeper Yaser Al Mosailem to punch clear.

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