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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 December 2006, 11:29 GMT
Iraqis hoping for football glory
Iraqi football success
The team's success caused an ecstatic reaction back home
Iraq have a morale-boosting chance of a gold medal at the Asian Games, when the national football squad faces the hosts Qatar in the final on Friday.

Celebratory gunfire rang out in the capital, Baghdad, when Iraq beat South Korea in Wednesday's semi-final.

It had been a day of bloody violence. Hours earlier at least 70 people died in a city-centre bombing.

"We will do our best to win the gold medal and dedicate it to every Iraqi," said goalkeeper Muhammad Khadum.

Iraq's 1-0 victory over the strong Korean side was clinched with a 24th-minute header by Samir Mujbel.

The young team - 90% of them are under 21 - have to endure some of the toughest conditions in world sport to train and play competitive matches.

Death threats

"Security is an issue," said coach Yahya Manhel, who takes his players back and forth to Jordan - along some of Iraq's most dangerous roads.

Three of his predecessors have resigned because of death threats, in a country gripped by a rampant anti-US insurgency and deadly sectarian strife.

In the 2004 Olympics, Iraq enjoyed a spectacular run of success in the football competition, but just missed out on the bronze medal, losing to Italy in the third-place play-off.

Iraq is participating in the Asian Games for the first time in 20 years. Its footballers had to pre-qualify and have played eight matches in the last three weeks.

Qatar beat another country at the centre of controversy - defending champions Iran - to reach the final.

A Fifa-imposed ban on Iran was lifted on the eve of the championship, but they lost 2-0 to the hosts in the other semi-final.


SEE ALSO
Iraq win Olympic pride on the pitch
23 Aug 04 |  Middle East
Iraqi footballers' fury at Bush
20 Aug 04 |  Middle East
Five Iraq sports officials freed
16 Jul 06 |  Middle East

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