Iraq coach Jorvan Vieira must have wondered why his team bothered leaving Bangkok at all. After coming to the somewhat disconcerting realisation that his team had no accommodation booked upon their arrival in Kuala Lumpur, Vieira probably let fly with a few choice words two days later when he stepped out on to the pitch at the cavernous Bukit Jalil Stadium. Greeted by the now familiar site of torrential rain lashing the ground, the pitch was visibly cutting as the two teams warmed up.
Outside the ground fans could have been forgiven for preparing their arks, as apocalyptic-looking rain clouds drifted over the city, seemingly determined to converge directly above the bafflingly large stadium. If the Petronas Towers are the obvious symbol of Kuala Lumpur then Bukit Jalil is a symbol of excess – it is difficult to envisage how this behemoth of a stadium could ever be filled to capacity. Nevertheless there was a noticeably improved atmosphere for the semi-final clash between Iraq and Korea Republic, as thousands of noisy Korean fans forced their Iraqi counterparts to lift their own game.
Coach Vieira had also called on his team to lift their game ahead of this clash, but the heavy, rain-sodden pitch made it clear from the outset that nothing short of a battle of attrition would settle this encounter. And so it was, as both Qiu Qiu Online teams punched and counter-punched in a nervy opening forty-five minutes. Both teams had chances, with the penetrative Hawar Mohammed Taher not enjoying the best of tournaments in front of goal for the Iraqi’s, whilst the livewire Ki Hun-Yeom lacked the composure to finish off a couple of decent chances for the Koreans.
With incessant rain continuing to lash the ground and both teams tiring visibly, it seemed inevitable that extra-time would follow a tense, scoreless second half. Despite the fact that both teams were desperate to land a knock-out blow, neither could conjure the goal they so willingly desired and after one hundred and twenty minutes of heavy going, the match was ultimately decided by the dreaded penalty shoot-out. History will show that Iraq goalkeeper Noor Sabri was the hero of the piece, brilliantly tipping Ki Hun-Yeom’s low penalty around the post. Substitute Ahmed Mohammed coolly converted Iraq’s next penalty – their fourth, and Iraq needed no more as Kim Jung-Woo hit the post with Korea’s subsequent spot-kick.
An emotional Jorvan Vieira paid tribute to his side, which was cobbled together from players plying their trades in a variety of Middle Eastern leagues – some of whom have not returned to their war-torn country for more than two years. Iraq had previously never progressed beyond the quarter-final stage of the Asian Cup – they now have the chance to create history and cause a genuine shock by claiming the crown as Asia’s best. They will have to overcome a highly experienced Saudi Arabia to do so, but given that Iraq have defied the odds throughout the tournament, few would bet against a fairy-tale finish.
Fans queue for their free tickets
Judging by the number of free tickets distributed for this semi-final clash, the Asian Football Confederation will be working over-time to try and rustle up a decent crowd for Sunday’s final at the 90,000 capacity Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta. With conjecture suggesting that the next Asian Cup will take place in January to avoid the heat of a Qatari summer, how AFC officials must have wished that they reconsidered their decision to hold this summer’s tournament during the rainy season. One thing is certain, Jorvan Vieira won’t be surprised if the weather threatens to rain on his parade on Sunday, and he won’t be the only one.