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Flashback: AFC Asian Cup 2007

Kuala Lumpur: Sixteen Asian nations came together as a historic edition of the AFC Asian Cup kicked-off exactly 11 years ago. takes a trip down memory lane to relive three weeks of thrilling action.

The 2007 edition was a historic one for a variety of reasons; four different nations (Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam) co-hosted the AFC Asian Cup for the first and only time in the competition's history, as Australia joined the Asian Football Confederation and made their continental debut.

History was made in the final as we saw a seventh different nation crowned champions of Asia. An unfancied Iraq side beat the odds to win their maiden AFC Asian Cup title. The tournament also got its own official match ball for the first time ever with the introduction of the Nike Mercurial AC.

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The action got underway with two of the four hosts springing upsets in the opening matchday; Vietnam defeated the UAE for their first-ever win in an AFC Asian Cup, while Indonesia brushed aside previous tournament’s semi-finalists Bahrain 2-1. Thailand settled for a draw against Iraq while Malaysia were the only hosting nation to suffer defeat with a 5-1 reversal against China PR.

On the other hand, the giants of the continent were not off to an easy start as Qatar held Japan to a 1-1 draw, Tim Cahill clinched a last-minute equaliser in Australia's debut against Oman, Korea Republic and Saudi Arabia played out a draw and the Islamic Republic of Iran sealed a narrow victory over Uzbekistan.   

The vast majority of a record 88,000 fans were left heartbroken as they watched co-hosts Indonesia succumb to an injury-time 2-1 defeat at the hands of Saudi Arabia, meaning they faced a do-or-die clash against Korea Republic in the final matchday after the Taeguk Warriors were left with one point from two games following a 2-1 loss to Bahrain.

Thailand were the only hosting nation to walk out victorious in matchday two, defeating Oman 2-0 as Vietnam held Qatar to a 1-1 draw and Malaysia conceded five for the second game running, this time from Uzbekistan.

Iraq kicked-off a series of stunning results that would take them all the way to the podium with a 3-1 win over newcomers Australia. The Socceroos squad boasted English Premier League stars Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka and Cahill, but the Lions of Mesopotamia ran riot with the talented Nashat Akram amongst the scorers. Both sides would advance to the next round after Australia turned on the style in the final group game to sweep Thailand 4-0.

Despite starting the tournament is the second-worst ranked side, Vietnam were ultimately the only hosts to progress to the quarter-finals, advancing past the group stage for the first time in their history. They were joined by four former champions; Japan, Korea Republic, IR Iran and Saudi Arabia. Uzbekistan rounded off the final eight alongside future champions Iraq and Australia.

The two dark horses; Vietnam and Iraq went toe-to-toe in the first knock-out fixture and it was Iraq's no 10 Younis Mahmoud who stepped into the breach bagging a brace to eliminate the last remaining host country from the competition.

Saudi Arabia did not face trouble in overcoming Uzbekistan with a 2-1 win, Yasser Al Qahtani, who would finish as top scorer alongside Mahmoud and Japan’s Naohiro Takahara scored for the Green Falcons. Penalty shootouts were needed in two quarter-final matches as Korea Republic and Japan knocked out IR Iran and Australia respectively.

It was east v west in the semi-finals, with historic rivals Japan and Saudi Arabia, who had between them split evenly the previous six titles, faced-off. Japan’ Takahara failed to add to his four goals while his challenger Al Qahtani put Saudi in front. Yuji Nakazawa and Yuki Abe scored for the Samurai Blue, but it was a Malek Mouath brace that settled the game with a thrilling 3-2 victory for the Green Falcons.

Iraq continued their solid run, keeping a clean sheet for a third game in a row, but Mahmoud and co could not break the Korea Republic defences for the entire 120 minutes, and the Taeguk Warriors were forced to fight for their fate in penalty shootouts once more. This time, Iraq goalkeeper Noor Sabri was the hero as he denied Yeom Ki-hun and his teammates found the back of the net with every attempt to book their place in the final against Saudi Arabia.

For the first time since Iran and Kuwait contested the 1976 final, there were two West Asian sides in the final. Battling against a tough situation at home, Iraqi players had already done their people proud, brining the nation together in support of the team, but had a chance to enter the history book if they could overcome neighbours Saudi Arabia.

The Green Falcons, on the other hand, were on a mission to move clear off Japan with a fourth continental title, to become the most decorated Asian national team. 60,000 fans watched on in the Indonesian capital Jakarta as Iraq kept the Saudis at bay for 73 minutes before hitting from a set-piece. Skipper Mahmoud rose highest at the far post to convert in Hawar Mulla Mohammed’s corner-kick, scoring arguably the most iconic goal in the history of the AFC Asian Cup.

History was written as the Lions of Mesopotamia became the seventh different side to win an AFC Asian Cup and Mahmoud waved his country's flag up high as he was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament and became the first Iraqi player to ever make the Ballon d'Or shortlist.

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