Iraq set up historic Asian Cup final with Saudis
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Iraq set up historic Asian Cup final with Saudis

Iraq's 4-3 penalty shootout win over South Korea sets up an all-Arab clash with Saudi Arabia by reaching their first Asian Cup final.

sports Updated: Jul 25, 2007 23:29 IST

Iraq brought widespread joy to their war-torn country on Wednesday by sinking South Korea to reach their first Asian Cup final.

The Iraqis' 4-3 penalty shootout victory over the Koreans set up an all-Arab clash with Saudi Arabia, who shattered Japan's dreams of a third straight title with a pulsating 3-2 win in Hanoi.

Goalkeeper Noor Sabri was Iraq's hero after saving South Korea's fourth spot kick from Yeom Ki-hun to leave the 2002 World Cup semi-finalists shell-shocked in rainy Kuala Lumpur.

"I'd like to congratulate all my people in Iraq for this great victory," Sabri told reporters. "We know we are struggling inside Iraq and we have to struggle on the field.

"This is a very modest thing we can give to our people."

Iraq had never before advanced further than the last four of the continent's premier competition.

South Korea coach Pim Verbeek remained defiant after his side's surprise defeat and refused to speculate on his future.

"If people think that was not good enough, that is not my problem -- it is a problem for the Korean people," the Dutchman snapped.

"I've made my decision already (on the future) but I'm not going to tell you what it is."

There was also high drama in Hanoi as Saudi Arabia finally broke their Asian Cup jinx against holders Japan with Malek Maaz scoring twice in an end-to-end game.

Solo Goal

The Saudi striker sent his country into their sixth final in the last seven tournaments with a fine solo goal, wriggling past three defenders before smashing the ball into the top corner.

"We're delighted," Saudi coach Helio Cesar dos Anjos told reporters. "To beat the best team in Asia means so much. It was the best game of the Asian Cup."

Saudi Arabia, who lifted the Asian Cup in 1984, 1988 and 1996, face Iraq in Jakarta on Sunday.

"Tonight was a huge victory for Arab football," said Brazilian Anjos. "I hope it will bring peace and happiness to the people of Iraq and also in Saudi Arabia."

The Saudis had never previously beaten Japan at the Asian Cup, including defeats in the 1992 and 2000 finals, but they were the sharper team throughout.

Saudi captain Yasser Al Qahtani had volleyed his side in front in the 35th minute but Japan took just two minutes to pull level through defender Yuji Nakazawa's towering header.

Maaz restored Saudi Arabia's lead with a bullet header two minutes into the second half only for Yuki Abe to equalise again for Japan with an acrobatic volley in the 53rd minute.

"We let them off the hook," shrugged Japan's Bosnian coach Ivica Osim. "We had more chances but couldn't take them. They had three and scored them all.

"We ran out of ideas. One or two of our key players simply didn't play well enough."

Japan, who had beaten Australia in a penalty shootout in the quarter-finals, take on South Korea in the third-place playoff in Palembang, Indonesia on Saturday.

First Published: Jul 25, 2007 23:23 IST