igloo Posted May 17 Report Share Posted May 17 Soccer win boosts IraqisMay 18, 2004WHEN gunfire erupted in Iraq's capital at the weekend it didn't signal an attack or an invasion - these were shots of joy as fans celebrated the stunning success of the Iraqi soccer team in qualifying for the Athens Olympics.Needing a win - and some luck - the Iraqis got both. They beat Saudi Arabia 3-1 in Jordan while Kuwait and Oman drew 0-0 to send Iraq to the Olympics as the third and final qualifier from the Asian region. It was Iraq's first Olympic soccer qualification since 1988 in Seoul, an astonishing achievement less than three months after the country's reinstatement by the IOC. "Thank God that we won in these circumstances. The shots fired in Baghdad were in joy rather than anger," said team member Sarmid Rashid, 22. "I say congratulations to the Iraqi people." It is a small piece of good news for a country in turmoil, still dealing with bombings and ambushes more than a year after US-led troops toppled Saddam Hussein's regime. "It's a very big victory for us to qualify for the Olympics," said Haidar Abed Razzaq, 22. "In spite of all the circumstances in Iraq, we qualified again after 16 years." The Iraqi players and supporters threw a party at the saucer-shaped Shaab Stadium, where Saddam Hussein's image once loomed on a giant billboard over a sea of broken and dusty orange, green and yellow seats, and where the US military operated a base for months. Paul Bremer, the top US civilian commander in Iraq, flew to the stadium to congratulate the team, emerging from an Army Black Hawk helicopter with a bevy of guards wearing flak jackets and carrying machine guns. "What a great game," Bremer said of Iraq's win over Saudi Arabia. Like the rest of the country, Bremer said he was nervous until the third goal. "Then I knew: Iraq is back," Bremer said. The political impact of the win wasn't lost on those present at the celebration either. Soccer - Iraq's national sport - was turned into a notorious enterprise by Hussein's murderous son Uday. Players were routinely beaten and tortured for miskicks on the field. And soccer, with other sports, was used by Uday to bypass international sanctions and funnel cash to his business enterprises. Midfielder Hayder Abdel Qader, 22, said he hoped the team would do well at the Olympics. "All the players want to do something good for themselves and for the people," he said. The soccer team will join six other Iraqi Olympians: a boxer, a weight lifter, a swimmer, a tae kwon do athlete, a wrestler and a runner.The Daily Telegraph Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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