Tomorrow is the championship match in the Asian Cup soccer tournament. One of the finalist is no surprise — it’s three time winner Saudi Arabia. But the other is a shock. Instead of taking on one of the usual suspects — Iran, South Korea, Japan — or new entrant Australia, the Saudis will face Iraq.
The Iraqi team, a mixture of Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish players, has had a marvelous run. In the preliminary round, it defeated tournament favorites Australia (which made the second round of last year’s World Cup and nearly defeated ultimate champs Italy). Iraq then handled Vietnam in the quarter-finals and kept its nerve to beat two-time South Korea on penalties in the semis.
Despite its ethnic and religious diversity, the Iraqi team is said to be a close-knit unit. If true this is more than can be said, at times, of the Spanish national team (Basques, Catalans, and the “Spanish” contingent from Madrid), and Holland’s national team (black and white), to cite just two examples.
Iraq’s team captain, Younis Mahmoud, says:
All the players have faced some difficult times but we know we can bring happiness to the Iraqi people. We share a great responsibility to bring [them] happiness through football so we always just concentrate on the match. We love football and we love our country and we are ready to defend it.