Saturday, July 28, 2007

Perspective: 'We have to play to be a champion and we hope no one dies -- this is what we wish.'

Jakarta: Iraq is carrying the hopes of its war-weary people into the Asian Cup final today, where victory over four-times champions Saudi Arabia stands to trigger wild celebrations in the troubled nation.

"We have been suffering for a long time, not just in recent days," striker Younis Mahmoud told reporters yesterday. "But we know that by winning, we can make the Iraqi people happy. We have reached the final, but that is not enough for us. Our ambition is win the title."

Iraq's journey to its first ever Asian Cup final has triggered rare joy back home, with many seeing the team as a potent symbol of national unity as bloody ethnic, religious and sectarian violence threaten to tear the country apart.

Each victory has been greeted by street parties and volleys of celebratory gunfire, but in a grim reminder of the reality facing the country two suicide bombers attacked revelers following the team's semifinal win on Wednesday, killing at least 50.

Iraq coach Jorvan Vieira said the bombings had affected the team, but "life must continue."

"We have to play to be a champion and we hope no one dies," said the Brazilian. "This is what we wish."

Read the rest at Gulf News