Saturday, June 13, 2009

Iraqi team a beacon of hope

Source: CBC

Even the most creative and talented screenwriter couldn't have written a script this compelling about the indomitable strength of the human spirit, the ability to overcome adversity in the most dire of circumstances, and the unifying power of sport.

It's a story tailor-made for Hollywood and the silver screen, but one that played out in real life on a lush, green soccer field in Jakarta

It was two years ago that the Iraqi national side — a team of Sunni, Shia and Kurdish players psychologically scarred by the daily chaos and ravages of the war raging back home — pulled off a major surprise when it upset powerhouse Saudi Arabia in the final of the Asian Cup in Indonesia.

Now, the Iraqis are attempting to shock the soccer world once more, this time in South Africa, when they compete at the FIFA Confederations Cup this month.

And not only can the reigning Asian champions count on the backing of supporters in Iraq, but also soccer fans all across the Middle East.

Shia, Sunni and Kurds come together

"Obviously the story is incredibly romantic about how a team of Shia, Sunni and Kurdish players all came together. It was a very proud nationalistic statement, but people from all over the Middle East got behind them because they were homeless," Montague explained.

"They could not play any matches or even train for a long while in Baghdad, so they lived this sort of nomadic existence where they would play matches and train in Oman, Jordan and Syria, and Dubai.

"And so there is this real sense that they represent the Middle East."

The Iraqis' victory in 2007 was all the more amazing when you consider that death, war, and attempts on their lives were are all things that they dealt with on a daily basis.

"A lot of the players were under threat of kidnap or assassination," explained Montague. "On the one hand, you had players who played abroad in Qatar, so they were worth money to their families, and they became targets of criminals and extortion.

"Terrorist groups would also target players because their victory was a nationalistic symbol; it was a unifying force, which both al-Qaeda and more separatist Shia elements and Kurdish elements were against."

Having already been eliminated from qualifying contention for the 2010 World Cup, Iraq is turning its focus to the Confederations Cup, and the belief is that the Asian champions can beat out hosts South Africa and New Zealand for second place behind Spain in Group A, thus booking a spot in the tournament semifinals.


The Confederations Cup starts Sunday with South Africa hosting Iraq in the opening match. The tournament has 8 teams, the 6 continent winners, Iraq, New Zealand, Egypt, USA, Spain and Brazil along with Italy the World Champions and South Africa the hosts. It's a tune-up tournament for the 2010 World Cup.

In the US all matches can be seen on ESPN2. In Canada some matches can be seen on CBC and some on some weird digital channel and the rest on internet. It's pretty messed up.

I'm looking forward to this tournament cause it usually has alot of goals. It's not life and death and teams like to experiment. I'll be cheering for Iraq to make the semifinals.

Here's video of Iraq's wonderful Asian Cup win in 2007 that qualified them for this tournament.

Youtube Link

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