Iraq leans over backward to gain semifinal spot, 1-0

Emad's bicycle kick puts away Australia

Blatter also nimble

Soccer

Athens 2004

August 22, 2004|By Grahame L. Jones | Grahame L. Jones,LOS ANGELES TIMES

HERAKLION, Greece - In a game of many missed chances last night, Mohammed Emad and Sepp Blatter didn't miss theirs.

Emad jumped and, with a bicycle kick, knocked Australia out of the men's Olympic tournament and put his country, Iraq, into the semifinals against Paraguay with a 1-0 win in front of 10,023 at Pankritio Stadium.

Blatter, too, was forced into some acrobatics - the verbal variety - by a question from Jamie Jackson of England's Observer newspaper, though Blatter's answer wasn't quite as deft as Emad's move.

"After Iraq had beaten Portugal, 4-2, you raised the hand of the president of the Iraq football federation, Saeed Hussein, who used to work for Uday Hussein, the son of Saddam Hussein," Jackson began at a pre-game news conference. "Wasn't that a little bit embarrassing for you?"

Blatter, president of FIFA and a member of the International Olympic Committee, was momentarily flustered but came up with an answer while the question was translated into Greek for local journalists.

"He was at that time the general secretary of the federation," Blatter said. "He was also a member of one of FIFA's committees. He was always a good-standing member of the FIFA committee. We helped him to take the leadership of the federation despite opposition inside the country.

"He is a footballer. He was a footballer. We trust him and we regret what has happened with politics in Iraq. We are going forward, looking forward, and working also not only for football, but also for peace.

"Football can be one of the tools of peace, not only in this country but all around the world."

Saeed Hussein was not at yesterday's post-match news conference, although he had been at others, and Iraq coach Adnan Hamad Majeed was left to speak about Australia being "a very tough opponent" and about this victory "giving great happiness to our people."

Emad's goal, in the 64th minute, climaxed a match in which both teams squandered scoring chances. Australia in particular, although Iraqi goalkeeper Sabri Nour made some excellent saves.

"As I've always maintained, in football you have to put the ball in the net," said Australia coach Frank Farina. "We created a lot of chances and didn't score."

Asked whether it was "any consolation to lose to the Cinderella story of the Olympics," Farina was quick with his answer.

"Definitely not," he said.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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