Iraq hero helps keep Asian Cup dream alive

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 January, 2011, 12:00am

Younis Mahmoud has a habit of popping up in the right place, at the right time for Iraq.

He did so four years ago when he scored the only goal of the Asian Cup final to give the troubled nation their first continental title with victory over Saudi Arabia. And he was on hand again to ensure his side's defence of that title continues for at least another game with the decisive move against the United Arab Emirates deep into injury time.

Mahmoud did not find the back of the net this time, but it was from his low, crisp cross that Emirati defender Walid Abbas put the ball into his own net to give the Iraqis a 1-0 win.

'We were lucky at the end but we were unlucky earlier in the game because we missed a number of chances including one of my efforts which hit the post,' Iraqi central midfielder Nashat Akram said.

'But in the end, we scored at a good time, right near the end of the game. I feel so proud because I love my country and I was able to help to bring some happiness to our people who are watching us and wanting us to win the game.'

The win was Iraq's first of the tournament and put their challenge for the title back on track after an opening round loss to great rivals Iran, who booked their place in the last eight of the tournament thanks to a 1-0 win over North Korea.

Victory for the Iraqis over the North Koreans in their final match will send Wolfgang Sidka's team into the quarter-finals as well, but to do so the team will have to overcome lingering suggestions that all is not well in the camp.

Senior players within the Iraqi squad are believed to be unhappy with the German's approach but Akram tried to put an end to the rumours by claiming all is well, especially after such a dramatic win.

'We had a hard time because we are the champions and we lost the first game against Iran,' he said.

'Some media have been reporting that there have been a lot of problems in the Iraqi national team but now we have silenced them. You could see that when we scored, all of us celebrated because we all want to play for our national team and our country.

'Today's game was really hard because the UAE team are very good and they are very well organised. But our target at the beginning was to get three points and we got it.

'We had no choice but to try to win because we are the defending champions and we had to get three points today and then another three points in our next game to guarantee our place in the next round.

'It was a good result but we have to forget about the win after today and concentrate on the next game because it will be a very hard match against North Korea.'