Saturday, July 28, 2007

Perspective: United in hope as game kicks off - and fear when final whistle blows

When they stride out under flood-lights in Jakarta for the final of the Asian Cup tomorrow, Iraq’s football team will have much more than goals on their minds.

There are the bereavements that have dogged them even as they made their extraordinary ascent from underdogs to potential victors. There is the hope that, like the Ancient Greeks who put their wars on hold for the Olympics, the bloodshed in their homeland may cease for the match with Saudi Arabia. There is the fear that as soon as the final whistle blows, the carnage will return, worse than before...

At least three players have lost relatives recently. Noor Sari, the Shia goalkeeper, from Sadr City, lost his brother-in-law to suspected Sunni insurgents just before the team flew out, and on arrival in Bangkok was told that his nephew had been kidnapped and murdered. Nashrat Akram, the rising midfield star, lost his uncle and two nephews in a bomb blast. Just before the quarter-final with Vietnam, Hawar Mulla Mohammed, the team’s only Kurd, learnt of his stepmother’s death.

“This is normal for us. Not just the players but everyone in Iraq,” said Walled Tabra, the team spokesman. “If the fighting stops during the game, then we will all be happy about that.”

Read the rest at the Times of London