PATRAS, Greece - In its first Olympic competition since its country was shattered by war, Iraq upset star-studded Portugal 4-2 on Thursday in a gritty, come-from-behind victory that set off cheers and celebrations among some 200 fans.
“This victory will be received with happiness by my people, who have suffered through much,” said Iraqi coach Adnan Hamad, whose countrymen were already taking to the streets of Baghdad, lighting up the night sky with streaks of celebratory gunfire.
The stunning victory over a team that made it to final of the recent Euro 2004 tournament brought a rare moment of joy for Iraqis plagued by violence, chaos and constant power outages.
Across their homeland, they watched the game on television at home and at cafes. Even people at a Baghdad barbershop took time out of their late-night haircuts to celebrate the goals.
“It’s very important for us to have won this first game,” player Abdul Wahab said. “We hope to give more satisfaction to our people who need happiness.”
Things did not go well early for the Iraqis, who handed the first goal to Portugal in the 13th minute when defender Haidar Jabar accidentally kicked the ball into his own net while trying to clear a pass by Cristiano Ronaldo. Three minutes later, however, striker Emad Mohammed tied the game after picking up a rebound from the goalkeeper, Moreira.
Iraq went ahead 2-1 in the 29th minute when Hawar Mulla Mohammed scored on a soft shot after dribbling past the goalkeeper, but Portugal tied it with a minute to go in the first half on a goal by Bosingwa.
Younis Mahmoud put Iraq ahead 3-2 in the 56th minute, and Salih Sadir scored during injury time to seal the victory.
Portugal ended the match with 10 men after Boa Morte was ejected for rough play. As the Portuguese player left the field, he was showered with dozens of plastic bottles by Iraqi fans.
Portugal, which had Manchester United winger Cristiano Ronaldo, Boa Morte and Hugo Viana in the lineup, is trying to make up for losing to upstart Greece in the final of Euro 2004, which it hosted.
Now it has to beat Group D rivals Costa Rica and Morocco, who tied 0-0 to reach the quarterfinal.
Iraq was a surprise addition to the Olympic tournament. The nation managed to cobble together a team amid ongoing conflict at home and efforts to rebuild an Olympic committee that was previously run by Saddam Hussein’s late son, Odai, who allegedly tortured players when they fell out of favor.
In May, Iraq clinched an Olympic soccer berth just three months after being reinstated by the International Olympic Committee. Two months later, the team’s German coach, Bernd Stange, resigned, claiming authorities advised him to leave for his safety.
He was replaced by his assistant, Adnan Hamad, who coached Iraq’s national soccer team to victory in the West Asian Championship in 2002 and played on the national team during the early 1980s.
In July, Iraq reached the quarterfinals of the Asian Cup that included a 2-1 win over regional soccer power Saudi Arabia.
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