Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds unite to hail cup-winning heroes
"THIS is not just about football, this is more important than that. This has brought great happiness to a whole country. This is not about a team, this is about human beings."
So said Jorvan Vieira, Iraq's national football team coach, yesterday after his side achieved one of sport's great fairytale moments, beating the favourites Saudi Arabia 1-0 in the Asian Cup final in Jakarta to provide a rare moment for celebration in their war-torn homeland.
In the 71st minute of the match, Iraqi captain Younis Mahmoud, a Sunni, climbed to head a perfectly-weighted corner from Hawar Mulla Mohammed, a Kurd, into the net.
"Those heroes have shown the real Iraq. They have done something useful for the people as opposed to the politicians and lawmakers who are stealing or killing each other," said Sabah Shaiyal, 43, a policeman in Baghdad's Shiite district of Sadr City.
"Once again, our national team has shown that there is only one, united Iraq."
But after the game, Mahmoud, who was named player of the tournament, said one of the tragedies of the war was that the team would not even be able to return to Iraq with the trophy.
"I don't want the Iraqi people to be angry with me," he said. "[But] if I go back with the team, anybody could kill me or try to hurt me."
The Iraqi captain, who like the rest of the team wore black armbands to remember the dozens killed by car-bombers following the side's semi-final victory over South Korea on Wednesday, said the United States presence in his homeland was a "problem".
"I want America to go out," he said. "Today, tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, but out. I wish the American people didn't invade Iraq and hopefully it will be over soon."
Yesterday, the Iraqi government enforced a vehicle ban to try to prevent a repeat of the two car bombs that tore into people celebrating Iraq's semi-final win. Mahmoud said one of the victims had been a small child.
"His mother said when her child was killed in front of her, she didn't cry. She said, 'I present my son as a sacrifice for the national team'. Then we had to win," he said.
An Iraqi military official said police had foiled a suicide car bomb attack in Baghdad yesterday, but the celebrations brought death for some. Shots fired into the air killed at least four people and wounded 17 when they returned to earth.
But for the most part, Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and other Iraqis joined together in peaceful celebration of their similarly mixed football team. "This winning has united the Iraqis and nobody has been this excited since a long time," said Yassir Mohammed, a Sunni from Baghdad.
Traffic jams clogged the streets in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah. Amir Mohammed, a Shiite, joined a Kurdish friend to celebrate. "The soccer team has shown that we are united from the south to the north," he said.
The Iraqi team, known as the "Lions of the Two Rivers" were making their first appearance in the final against three-time champions Saudi Arabia.
In the post-match news conference, Vieira, a Brazilian, and Mahmoud sat wearing black armbands. "It's very clear, from our arms, our respect to the people who died when we put Korea out of the competition," Vieira said. "This victory we offer to the families of those people."
He also paid tribute to the team physio, Anwar, who died in a bombing as he was collecting tickets to attend the pre-tournament training camp in Jordan.
Vieira confirmed he was now quitting and said: "I have worked my best to give happiness to the Iraqi people, to bring a warm smile to their lips, and my mission is accomplished."
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Saturday 18 May 2013
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