Saturday, July 28, 2007

Perspective: Saudis have the pedigree, but Iraqis have the dream

TYPICALLY for Iraq, triumph has mixed with tragedy in the wake of the team's fairytale journey to the final of the Asian Cup.

Within moments of Kim Jung-woo's penalty striking the post in Wednesday night's semi-final against South Korea, wild celebrations had begun on the streets of Baghdad. But suicide bombers saw the victory not as a respite, but an opportunity - killing at least 50 people.

On Sunday in Jakarta, the Iraqi team, led by a bespectacled, permanently stubbled mentor who has coached 26 clubs and five national teams in a journeyman career, will make another attempt to unify a fractured country.

It is the first time in their history that Iraq have reached the pinnacle of Asian football. And as has been the case for most of their games, they will go into the match as underdogs. After all, three-time champion Saudi Arabia have been in five of the past six finals.

Iraq, though, have the players to cause an upset. And their trump card is Brazilian-Portuguese coach Jorvan Vieira, who only took over the team two months before the tournament. Vieira, who has since expressed an interest in coaching in Australia, was the fourth choice of the Iraqi federation, but the three preferred candidates received death threats and turned the job down.

Read the rest at the Sydney Morning Herald