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Iraq's 2007 AFC Asian Cup fairytale

Friday, July 7, 2017
iraq win jpg

Kuala Lumpur: It’s hard to believe a decade has passed since Iraq stunned the world to lift the AFC Asian Cup for the first time in one of the most heartwarming football stories ever to be told.

Japan were slow to get out of the blocks after starting with a 1-1 draw against Qatar but the holders then picked up successive wins over the United Arab Emirates and Vietnam to finish on top of Group B.

Vietnam were playing in their first AFC Asian Cup since 1960 as South Vietnam, and goals from Huynh Quang Thanh and Le Cong Vinh secured the country's first-ever win in the competition with a 2-0 victory over the UAE, before a 1-1 draw with Qatar was enough to see the co-hosts make the knockout stage.

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Uzbeks pip Chinese

Three-time continental champions Islamic Republic of Iran came from behind in their Group C opener with Uzbekistan to win 2-1, before coming from two down to tie 2-2 with China and then seeing off Malaysia 2-0 to top the standings.

Having both claimed resounding wins over Malaysia, Uzbekistan and China would battle it out for second place with the Central Asians needing victory to progress. Goalless with 18 minutes to play, the Uzbeks netted three to eliminate the Chinese.

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Powerhouses progress

Continental heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Korea Republic both advanced from Group D, despite Indonesia claiming a 2-1 opening-day win over Bahrain after Bambang Pamungkas scored the decisive goal.

Two wins and a draw saw the Saudis top the standings, while Bahrain’s shock 2-1 victory over the Koreans meant the group went down to the wire. But a solitary strike from Kim Jung-woo put the hosts to the sword in the final game as Korea Republic spared their blushes to qualify.

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And then there were four

Vietnam were taking part in their first quarter-final in the tournament but finishing second in Group B meant their next game would take place in Bangkok, where Mahmoud’s brace saw Iraq march on after a 2-0 victory.

Back in Hanoi, John Aloisi gave Australia the lead over Japan only for Naohiro Takahara to level almost immediately, before the holders scraped through 4-3 on penalties as the Socceroos went home.

After stumbling into the last eight, Korea Republic limped through another round as Kim again proved the hero when he scored the winning penalty against the Iranians as the two-time champions prevailed from the spot following a goalless draw.

Saudi Arabia then completed the semi-final line-up as Yasser Al Qahtani and Ahmed Al Mousa each scored in a 2-1 win over Uzbekistan to give the last four a strong east meets west feel.

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West comes out on top

Iraq were looking to progress to their maiden final on the continent while Korea Republic were aiming to return for a first time since 1988 when the pair faced off in the semi-finals in Kuala Lumpur.

And after 120 minutes were unable to separate the sides, it was Iraq who booked their place in the final after scoring all four of their penalties to win 4-3.

Japan and Saudi Arabia produced an action-packed clash in Hanoi that saw Al Qahtani open the scoring for the Saudis before Yuji Nakazawa made things all square at the interval.

Yuki Abe again leveled for the Samurai Blue after Malek Mouath had put Saudi Arabia back in front shortly after the restart, but Mouath would not be denied his moment in the sun as the forward popped up with the winner shortly before the hour to set up a date with Iraq.

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Groundhog Day

Fierce rivals Japan and Korea Republic went head to head in the third place play-off and, for the third match in a row, the Koreans would end scoreless and see the game decided from the spot.

After the first 11 penalties all found the back of the net, Lee Woon-jae saved from Naotake Hanyu as Pim Verbeek’s team finished in third place.

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Written in the stars

Saudi Arabia went into the final looking to claim a record fourth championship against an Iraq side whose previous best performance had come in finishing fourth in 1976.

The Saudis were the tournament’s top scorers but were up against a team that had not conceded since their second group game, and it was the Iraqis who had the better of a goalless first half at Jakarta’s Gelora Bung Karno Stadium.

But with the game having just entered the final 20 minutes, Hawar Khalef sent in an inswinging corner from the right that was headed in by the tournament’s MVP Mahmoud at the back post as Jorvan Vieira’s team secured the most magical of victories for the troubled country.

Vieira left the Iraq position immediately after the tournament, while the Lions of Mesopotamia would post two draws and a loss from their maiden FIFA Confederations Cup two years later, but failed to match expectations in their 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign. For three weeks in Southeast Asia, though, this was a side that peaked in the most remarkable of circumstances.