Soccer win provides Iraq with moment of glory

Plenty of support on hand to cheer Portugal's fall, 4-2


August 13, 2004|By John Jeansonne | John Jeansonne,NEWSDAY

PATRAS, Greece - It was just a soccer game, and they can't send all that electricity generated by 1,000 Iraqi fans here last night to Baghdad, but Iraq's 4-2 upset victory over Portugal in the Olympic soccer tournament was a lot more than could fit on a bumper sticker.

It was a surprising result: Portugal entered the Games a gold-medal contender; Iraq was an Olympic qualifier for the first time in 16 years.

And, of course, it was a celebratory moment for a nation in need of a reason to party.

"This is the first time an Iraqi team has played in Greece," said fan Hekmat Gahbor, 37, an Iraqi emigrant who lives in Athens. "This is the first time we are too much happy."

Gahbor was among the shouting, chanting, flag-waving Iraqis in Pampeloponnisiako Stadium, three hours west of Athens. Like his fellow supporters he had a white T-shirt, with Iraq's flag above the breast, and large letters IRAQ on the back, donated by an Iraqi shop owner in Athens.

Another Iraqi fan, Wiam Naamo, lives in Australia. But, "this is my country," he said, nodding toward his fellow fans.

All of them were thoroughly aware of the game's subtext, the ongoing hostilities in their native land. But "now it's time to forget," said Gorguis Maher, 34. He gestured toward his noisy mates. "I like to look at my family."

That family wore itself out as the game wore on. An Iraqi own-goal in just the 13th minute was followed by striker Emad Mohammed's score just three minutes later for a 1-1 tie.

Two fans bolted onto the field, one to hug Mohammed, the other to embrace Iraq goalkeeper Nour Sabri. The volume neared jet-engine range when Iraq's Hawar Mulla Mohammed scored in the 29th minute.

While Portugal superstar Ronaldo was having a frustrating time, once hitting the post with a free kick, Portugal managed a 2-2 tie on Bosingwa's 25-yard blast just before halftime.

A questionable red card on Portugal's Boa Morte in the 51st minute led to Iraq's go-ahead breakaway tap-in goal by Younis Mahmoud five minutes later.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Postcard from Athens

Some members of the press corps are laboring more than others.

Because their lodging was not built in time, The Boston GlobeM-Fs contingent is being housed in the maternity ward at IASO Hospital, complete withadjustable beds, call buttons and hand grips in the bathtub.

Reporters say they feel safer because terrorists wouldnM-Ft bomb a baby hospital and no one is going to let the powergo out. And thereM-Fs more. M-tIf you need any flowers, balloonsor baby toys,M-v offers reporter John Powers, M-tjust call me.M-v

M-y Candus Thomson

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