Sunday, July 15, 2007

Nation unites on pitch at least

Iraqi players celebrate their momentous 3-1 victory over Australia.
"We won tonight, so our fans will be shooting in the air, and that is better than shooting at each other."

Such was Iraq coach Jorvan Viera's frank assessment after his team shocked Australia 3-1 at Rajamangala National Stadium in Bangkok.

The wily Brazilian veteran has only been in the job for six weeks, and he was quick to deflect attention on to his players following Iraq's stunning win.

It came on the back of an inspired performance from playmaker Nashat Akram - who has been heavily linked with a move to English Premier League club Sunderland, and who opened the scoring with a free-kick after twenty-three minutes.

Australia hit back through a Mark Viduka header just after the break, but when man-of-the match Nashat played a superb reverse pass into the path of Hawar Mullah Mohammed on the hour mark, the midfielder made no mistake after being allowed a clear run through on goal.

Iraqi fans poured into the streets of the war-torn nation when Karrar Jassim Mohammed added a third late on, as a team comprised of Sunni and Shia Muslims, Kurds and Christians conjured a temporary peace in the fractured nation.

The match was played against a political backdrop, with more than 600 Australian troops still deployed in Iraq as part of a peace-keeping force in that country.

The Australians must be sick of the sight of Iraq on the football pitch, however, with the Iraqi's having knocked Australia out of the 2004 Athens Olympics en route to the semi-finals.
Australia coach Graham Arnold is now under intense pressure after his team turned in one of their worst performances in recent years.

Bereft of ideas and guilty of committing inexplicable errors, one might have assumed that it was Australia who fielded a mixture of semi-amateur and professional players, rather than Iraq.
As it was a team comprised mainly of players plying their trade in the English Premier League turned in an embarrassing performance.

Middlesbrough goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, substitute Tim Cahill of Everton and West Ham defender Lucas Neill all had games to forget - with Neill red-carded at the death as Australia's frustrations boiled over.

When asked to comment on the dismal performance, Australia coach Graham Arnold claimed that "maybe some players don't want to be here."

His assessment appeared to anger Australia captain Mark Viduka, with the much-vaunted Australians' Asian Cup dreams seemingly crumbingly down around them.
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