- The Washington Times - Friday, August 13, 2004

PATRAS, Greece — In its first Olympic competition since its country was shattered by war, Iraq upset star-studded Portugal 4-2 yesterday in a gritty, come-from-behind victory as about 200 chanting fans cheered and jumped wildly.

“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 back in 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 residents plagued by violence, chaos and constant power outages during the hot summer.

Iraqis across the country watched the game on television in their homes 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 after the game. “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 as he tried 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.

The Iraq fans, mostly students who traveled to Pampeloponnisiako Stadium from various Greek cities, chanted and jumped in unison. Some waved Iraqi flags and signs in Arabic as unarmed police watched.

At the end of the match, the jubilant Iraqi players ran across the field holding their raised hands above their heads.

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.

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 is said to have ordered the torture of players who 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.

Portugal, which had Manchester United winger Cristiano Ronaldo, Boa Morte and Hugo Viana on 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 quarterfinals.

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