Iraq — soccer champions of Asia

Yesterday, I noted that the Iraqi national soccer team — which includes Sunnis, Shi’ites, and Kurds — had advanced to the finals of the Asian Cup competition. Today the Iraqi team added to that already remarkable accomplishment by defeating heavily favored Saudi Arabia 1-0 in the final. Sometimes a 1-0 victory can be a fluke. However, the report of this match suggests that Iraq clearly deserved its victory and would have won by more but for a fine performance by the Saudi goalkeeper.
The top teams in this tournament — Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Japan, Iran, and Australia — are roughly comparable to the U.S. in soccer stature. Most of them would rank in the top 40 among the world’s national teams in an honest ranking (as opposed to the garbage ranking put out by the international soccer bureaucracy). Iraq probably would not have been thought of in the top 80 going into this tournament. Under Saddam, the team was known only for having its members tortured by one of his sons when they failed to meet his expecations. After the liberation, Iraq showed immediate signs of improvement and performed well in the 2004 Olympics. Still, its performance in this year’s Asian Cup was totally unexpected, particularly given the difficulties the team faced in trying to prepare under the conditions that prevail in Iraq.
Does the victory have any meaning beyond sports? I doubt it. If the Dems force us out of Iraq, today’s soccer match won’t mean much in the ensuing bloodbath. Still, it’s good to see the Iraqi people, who collectively have suffered so much and have shown considerable courage, receive this gift from their footballers.
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