Sunday, July 29, 2007

Iraq Make History

Iraq Make History.
It was an unusually cloudy day in Jakarta for the final of the 2007 Asian Cup. The skyline of the city's downtown could barely be seen behind the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium and the dozens of Indonesian flags on its roof, were fluttering in the breeze.

According to the local media, around 25-30,000 tickets had been sold with around 24 hours left until kick-off. That didn't sound too discouraging, certainly better than some of the nightmare scenarios that had previously been painted.

A half-full 90,000 stadium for the not-so-glamorous game between Saudi Arabia and Iraq may not have been great but would have saved blushes. What the locals wanted was an East Asian affair between Japan and South Korea but at least the fairy-tale story of Iraq had made news around the world.

Outside the arena an hour before kick-off there was something of a buzz. Street-sellers with any remaining Indonesian knock-off shirts were doing good business with tourists dressed in Southampton, Newcastle, Celtic and Liverpool colours.

Security was predictably tight around the entrances but early fans inside the stadium could have been forgiven for heading to the exits before the game even started.

With the Indonesian idols out of the competition, somebody had the bright idea of giving the pre-match entertainment to the 11 finalists of "Indonesia's Pop Idol." A few ear-splitting minutes later, it was thankfully over and we were left to see how many people would actually attend the showpiece game.

By the time the match started however, the arena was more than half-full with around 60,000 people inside. Most of them were unsurprisingly cheering for Iraq and while the atmosphere may not have matched those generated when the Indonesia played, it was lively nonetheless.

The game wasn't bad either. It took a while to get going but was entertaining enough. One goal was always likely to be enough and Iraq were the deserved scorers. There was genuine happiness all around when Younis Mahmoud headed home with 19 minutes remaining. To their credit, Iraq sought a second and it wouldn't have been undeserved.

Australian referee Mark Shield had a good game and ended this one to send Iraqis all over the world into ecstasy. The ones on the pitch were equally delighted and the celebrations began.

Sepp Blatter was hanging around but it was left to the President of Indonesia to hand the trophy to the waiting Younis Mahmoud. In history, there have always been occasional ungracious sorts who try to lift the trophy with the winning captain but this politician held the bowl-shaped trinket aloft with both hands a good few seconds before handing it over to the matchwinner. The striker danced on the podium before being joined by lots of people in suits.

The party continued on and off the pitch and the Jakarta night sky was lit up by fireworks that signalled the end of the 22-day competition. A good time was had by all.

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