Monday, July 30, 2007
I was already regretting my prediction of a Saudi win after ten minutes of last night's game; the Iraqis looked hungrier, more composed on the ball, quicker to the 50-50s and altogether more likely to break through. Malek Maaz, so dangerous against Japan and Uzbekistan, was superbly policed by Bassim Abbas, while the outstanding Jassim Gholam made sure that the other Saudi attackers had scant time on the ball.
It was hard to believe that this was the same side that had looked so listless in the second half of their opening game against Thailand!
Although the eventual Iraqi goal (the umpteenth that the Saudis have conceded from a set-piece) owed something to good fortune, given that the initial corner was awarded incorrectly, it was well-deserved. It was fitting that Younis Mahmoud was the scorer, although he managed to besmirch his tournament performance somewhat with an outrageous piece of play-acting after a trivial confrontation with a Saudi defender.
It was in midfield that Iraq really dominated, with Qusay Munir carrying on his excellent form from the Korea game and Nashat Akram showing glimpses of his earlier brilliance. I still feel that Helio dos Anjos made a mistake in omitting the in-form Ahmed Al-Mousa from the Saudi starting eleven; significantly, when the midfielder did finally arrive at half-time, he nearly tore through to score after being on the pitch for barely a minute. Yet, by that stage, Iraq were already well in control.
The sentimental aspect aside, Iraq were clearly worthy winners of the tournament. Their admirable defence conceded only two goals, one of which was a dubious penalty (just like the Italians at last year's World Cup, in fact), and their attack, despite the early loss of the inventive Salih Sadir, never looked short of ideas or drive.
Needless to add, they have also brought some much-needed joy to their stricken country.
Felicitations to the 2007 Asian Champions.
Iraq winning, and Korea coming 3rd by scoring only 3 goals for and 3 against including 1-2 loss to Bahrain) put the Socceroos performance in perspective.
Quarter-finals was a fair reflection of our campaign as a whole. Disappointing finish, but not a major embarrassment. But it's tempting for people to call it as such in the black-or-white, all-or-nothing sudden death WCQ playoff environment we're still emerging from.
Great to see Iraq win. If the Saudis did, it would be a shame to see a team triumph after using so many lives and riding their luck so much. Had the woodwork save them six times in the QF/SFs and should've lost by two or three against Iraq. As it was, they still very nearly equalised at the end of the final. They certainly can't rue their luck.