Iraq reach within sight of soccer medal
Iraq beat Australia 1-0 in the quarter-final of the Olympic soccer tournament on Saturday to move within sight of a medal, maybe even the gold.
In one of the most amazing achievements in Olympic history, a soccer team that can't play any games on home turf because of the daily violent conflict in its country is one game away from the Olympic final in Athens.
Emad Mohammed scored the only goal of the game in the 64th minute at Iraklion and, in the semifinal, the Iraqis will face either Paraguay or South Korea, who faced each other on Saturday at Thessaloniki.
Mali and Italy went into extra time tied 0-0 while the other quarter-final between Argentina, hot favorite for the gold, and Costa Rica also kicked off later.
The only goal at the Pankritio Stadium came following a corner. Mahdi Karim headed the ball down to Mohammed who hooked the ball in with an overhead kick.
The goal set off jubilant celebrations among more than 1,000 Iraqi supporters, hundreds of whom had been chanting and waving flags since an hour before kickoff.
A year ago, Iraq's soccer federation had been disbanded, the team had no facilities and no cash and the nation's Olympic status had been suspended by the International Olympic Committee. Reinstated by the IOC in February, Iraq played catchup to get its athletes to Greece and its soccer players qualified not only for the Olympics but also for the Asian Cup in China.
They got there under the guidance of inspirational German coach Bernd Stange. But he was forced to quit three months ago facing death threats if he ever returned to Iraq and was replaced by Adnan Hamad.
They still couldn't play on home turf because of the continued bloody conflict back in their own country and had to survive financially on handouts from other federations and the proceeds of friendly games.
Iraq made it to the quarterfinal of the Asian Cup last month only to lose 3-0 to China. Now it has gone one stage further at the Olympics.