On 25th July, Iraq beat South Korea, one of the cup favorites, in a nail-biter, where the 0-0 regulation time score led to a penalty shoot-out win 4-3 in the semis. (BBC report). A country deprived of joy for four years, Iraq has the potential to hoist its first ever continental cup. It will be Iraq’s first visit to the Asia Cup finals. And, Iraq is not without merit in the football world. It is worth noting that Iraq scored a similar penalty win (4-3 penalties after 2-2 draw) over Syria in the Third West Asian Games in 2005. And, more recently, Iraq lost to Iran 2-1 in the 2007 West Asia Cup final in June.
This latest Iraqi victory was sadly met by 2 car bombings killing 51 people and wounding 90 more. Yes, politics and sports meet again. And what should have been a rallying cry spilled into yet another bloodbath. The team is, without doubt, a magical multi-ethnic team, with a Kurdish winger, star Sunnite forward (Qusai Munir) and a Shiite goalie (Abbas, who managed to save one of the penalties). But, the national team and leading members of the football organization have been peppered with kidnappings, death threats and more over the last couple of years. Is there any hope that such outlandish in-house violence may create a pan-religious rallying cause to curb the violent antagonists.
On 29th July, the final in Kuala Lumpur will be played against Saudi Arabia who, no less surprisingly, beat Japan 3-2 to make an Arab final as opposed to a Far Eastern Asian final between two long-term foes. It was Saudi Arabia’s first victory over Japan in the Asia Cup, and they evidently deserved the victory.
Personally, I would be thrilled if an Iraqi victory in the Final on Sunday managed to galvanize some kind of truce.