Sunday, August 22, 2004

Iraq through to last four

Heraklio, Greece,

Iraq's fairytale run in Greece continued after a narrow 1-0 quarter-final victory over Australia enabled the middle-eastern side to reach the semi-finals of the Men Olympic Football Tournament for the first time.

Participating in the Olympics for the first time since 1988, Adnan Hamad's side have given their countrymen something to cheer about courtesy of an overhead kick by Emad Mohamed in the 64th minute and the brilliant form of 20-year-old Noor Sabri in goal at the Pankritio Stadium.

Australia went into the game without key players Craig Moore, Tim Cahill and Ahmad Elrich who were serving suspensions after picking up their second cautions in the last group match against Argentina and their absence was sorely felt by Frank Farinaâ??s side.

However, despite Iraqâ??s early dominance, it was the Oceania side which had the first shot at goal on the half hour when Anthony Danze beat Bassim Abbas to a header only to see Noor Sabri pulling off a super save.

Sabri had to repeat his heroics in the second half when Australian midfielder Alex Brosque attempted a lob over Sabri for what seemed a certain opening goal in the 48th minute.

However, the Al Quwa Al Jawiya custodian scampered back to punch the ball away. The ball fell to Brosque who was denied by another save by Sabri.

When Australia did manage to beat the in form custodian, Perth Glory midfielder Danzeâ??s goal was ruled out for offside. The Iraqi custodian kept his side in the game in the 59th minute when he saved a looping header by John Aloizi.

Sabriâ??s heroics paid off five minutes later when Emad Mohammed scored with a lovely bicycle-kick after substitute Mahdi Karim had chipped the ball into the box in the 64th minute.

Australia responded almost immediately but a stunning shot from skipper Luke Wilkshire which beat Sabri only rocked the bar in the 66th minute.

Iraq came close to doubling their lead in the 74th minute when the substitute striker Razzaq Farhan broke into the area but was denied by Australian goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic.

Although the Australians surged forward relentlessly towards the end, they were denied by Iraqi defenders who were brilliantly led by Bassim Abbas and Qusai Munir.

Iraq will meet the winners of the other quarter-final between Paraguay and Korea Republic.

Hamd admitted it was not an easy encounter for his side. â??We were tired and the weather was very humid. I'm proud of my players and I hope that we can complete the victory and qualify to the final.â??

â??Now that we have reached the semi finals, we have to play against another good team. I think that the spirit of the players is on fire and we have a good chance to win a medal.â??