Asian Cup soccer final: Iraq beats Saudi Arabia; Update: Three car bombs intercepted before detonation

The score was 1-0:

Iraq overcame incredible odds to clinch the Asian Cup after beating three-time champions Saudi Arabia 1-0 in Sunday’s showcase final in Jakarta.

Captain Younes Khalef headed home the decider at the far post from Hawar Taher’s corner 18 minutes from time as the Iraqis claimed their first continental title to provide a rare moment of joy for their compatriots back home in the war-scarred nation.

Iraq have shown steely resolve throughout the July 7-29 event, brushing aside tournament favorites Australia 3-1 in the group stage before reaching the final after a penalty shootout win over South Korea in the semifinal in Kuala Lumpur last Wednesday.

Justin Higgins points to an inspiring NYTimes piece about the Iraqi team and the hardships its members faced:

When the Iraqi national soccer team left Malaysia for the finals here, they were delayed three hours in the Kuala Lumpur airport before collapsing into their cramped, economy-class seats.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s team strolled onto its stylish, private jet, accompanied by media representatives, interpreters, doctors and coaches, and was whisked here.

This has been the story for the Iraqis the entire tournament. The underfinanced team has been plagued by endless complications with travel, accommodations, food, training and equipment.

“From A to Z, everything has been a problem from the very beginning,” said Jorvan Vieira, the head coach from Brazil who brushed aside death threats to take his short-term job with Iraq.

And now, Iraqi prepares for post-victory violence. The government has imposed a ban on vehicles and celebratory gunfire around Baghdad. Government employees have been sent home. The US military is on alert, positioning troops as necessary to maintain security nationwide. Before the win, one of the Iraqi soccer player’s invested much hope in pacifying the country:

“We have been suffering for a long time, not just in recent days,” striker Younis Mahmoud told reporters Saturday in Jakarta. “But we know that by winning, we can make the Iraqi people happy. We have reached the final, but that is not enough for us. Our ambition is win the title.

“We are shouldering our responsibility to bring hope to the Iraqi people,” Mahmoud said. “The players are concentrating on the match. It is the only way they can make the people happy.”

Update: It was nice while it lasted. Gunfire has erupted in Baghdad.

Update (AP): Four people are dead from “celebratory gunfire,” but it could have been worse:

Police shot a man attempting to drive a car bomb into a jubilant crowd in the south Baghdad neighborhood of Sadiya about 7:10 p.m., killing him and causing the car to explode without injuring anyone, police said. Earlier in the day, Baghdad police said, they stopped two Saudi Arabian nationals attempting to detonate cars packed with explosives in the eastern neighborhood of Zayuna.

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David Strom 8:01 AM on December 08, 2022