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 Judi Online 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
Saudis Spoil The Party
Saudi players celebrate dramatic win
It is easy with hindsight to say that it was coming but it was. Even the combined wills of 90,000 partisan Indonesian fans couldn’t stop Saad Al Harthi’s header crashing high into Pitoy’s net three minutes into injury time.
The free-kick was taken right in front of the press box – one which seemed to have more supporters than reporters – and the location was an inviting one with several tall Saudis waiting in the middle just one good cross away.
So, instead of 1-1 it was 2-1 to the three-time champions. Instead of a draw against South Korea next Wednesday, Indonesia will almost certainly need to put the Taeguk Warriors to the sword and relieve the visitors of all three points, though in an Asian Cup full of surprises, such a thing is not beyond the realms of possibility.
Indonesian players belt out their anthem
Earlier the same evening, Gelora Bung Karno wasn’t a stadium stunned into silence by Haarthi’s header – it had been rocking. Buoyed by the team’s thrilling 2-1 win over Bahrain four days previously, the locals had responded by snapping up all tickets more than 24 hours before kick-off.
Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur may be resistant to the delights of the Asian Cup but Jakarta has been coming down with a full-blown fever and it was contagious.
To say the atmosphere was deafening would be an understatement. Even 45 minutes before kick-off, it was special. In such surroundings it is easy to get carried away and believe that anything is possible – the fans certainly did.
Gelaro Bung Karno Stadium almost an hour before kick-off
They had been told to come early as President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had decided to pay his first ever visit to the national arena to see the team. Security was tight and the khaki of the uniformed security guards was a sharp contrast to the strangely attractive green and white shirts that the liaison officers sported.
It was Saturday night with the Saudis. Unlike the fans, most of whom were sporting ‘unofficial’ national team shirts, the local scribes were not confident of keeping out the visitors. “You saw our defence against Bahrain, it is not good,” said one.
That may be but the hosts have buckets of pride and passion and while the three-time continental champs had more of the possession in a lively opening period, it was Indonesia who had the chances.
Elie Aiboy missed a sitter from three yards after ten minutes and will still shaking his head when Saudi striker Yasser Al-Qahtani was sticking his on a great cross from Ahmed Al Bahri to put his team ahead.
The crowd barely missed a beat and continued to roar on the reds and they were rewarded five minutes later as Aiboy made up for his earlier miss by rounding the goalkeeper and coolly slotting the ball home.
Indonesia finished the half with a couple of good chances and hopes were high at half-time. There was still a sneaking suspicion that another goal was necessary to secure the point that would have satisfied every spectator –from the legions of security guards who never took their eyes from the action to the president himself.
Guards glued to game
As the second period progressed, the Saudis took control and started to make chances. The crowd were quieter than they had been all night; they were nervous, the local scribes were nervous and I was nervous.
The referee may have been over-fussy during the game but was correct to award a free-kick just outside the right side of the Indonesian penalty area. As the Saudis lined up the kick, and crowded the six yard box with their tallest players, it was not difficult to predict what was going to happen.
That cross found the head of Saad Al Harthi. Haarthi missed a sitter during injury time against Korea and had been vilified by the Saudi press. Redemption was his as he headed the ball firmly into the net – the Saudis’ second aerial goal of the game.
While the goal was probably deserved, it was cruel as all last-minute winners are. You didn’t need to be an expert in the local language to understand the general sentiments that were being expressed by those in the press box and outside.
The Saudi scribes were on their feet though. One of them seemed to be hit by a missile. I had been warned that Indonesians fans don’t take defeat very well and are prone to fighting after losing. Outside the stadium, that didn’t seem to be the case – the atmosphere outside was calm and slightly sad.