No medal but Iraq made big impact

Italy goes home with a bronze medal it scarcely deserves. Iraq made the soccer world sit up but leaves the Olympics with nothing. And the team's success would provide some relief to the people suffering horrors back home.
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Published on Aug 28, 2004 11:10 AM IST
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PTI | ByRobert Millward (AP), Thessaloniki, Greece

Italy goes home with a bronze medal it scarcely deserves. Iraq made the soccer world sit up but leaves the Olympics with nothing.

Few people remember the fourth place finisher at the Olympics. Not this time.

Friday's 1-0 loss to the Italians meant that coach Adnan Hamad and his players didn't provide their war-torn people with their first Olympic medal since a weightlifter collected bronze 44 years ago.

"To reach the semifinal is a big achievement for our team under our circumstances," a disappointed Hamad said. "But we wanted to win the game and to have a bronze medal to bring happiness to our people."

The gold medal is being decided on Saturday when Argentina faces Paraguay at the Olympic Stadium in Athens.

Hamad hoped that his team's success at the Olympics would provide some relief to the people suffering horrors back home. The fact that Hamad's team won't have the medals placed around their necks at Saturday's post-final ceremony doesn't mean they didn't achieve a lot here.

They arrived against a background of war and daily violence in their homeland that would have been too much for most sports teams to handle.

With no soccer being played in Iraq, they had to travel elsewhere to play their "home" qualifying games for the Olympics and Asian Cup. They reached both, losing in the quarterfinals of the Asian Cup finals in China and reaching the final four at the Olympics. Facing death threats if he ever returned to Iraq, the team's German coach, Bernd Stange, quit in May and Hamad, who had successfully guided the youth teams, took over.

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