mahmoud.jpgAs I steal liberally from the New York Times…

“This is a great time for Iraqis, and a small reward for their suffering from killings and displacement. This is a message to the entire world that Iraqis want peace, good, and building their country. This message is opposite to all the agendas working against the goals of Iraqis. The Iraqi politicians have failed in unifying Iraqis, but football did that.” —Akram Al-Ghaderi, 33, journalist.

As promised—and I know how many of you intended to hold me to this—I managed to crawl out of bed early this morning to watch the Asian Cup final between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Okay, I slept in a little and missed the entire first half. Fortunately, it was still knotted at 0-0 when I arrived at the pub. Even the sport’s most ardent supporters have to admit it’s a major flaw when you can miss half the event and still not really miss anything.

From what I saw, Iraq created more chances and were deserving of the win. Still, Iraq was so shaky toward the end of the match that its defense was registering on the Richter scale and if there had been three or four more minutes of stoppage time the Saudis would have found a way to equalize.

But the match itself wasn’t nearly as entertaining as my watching experience. (more…)


spic3.jpgThere are all kinds of ways to make this political. I mean, the Iraqis can’t even enjoy their Asian Cup semi-final win without another round of Car Bomb Derby breaking out (and incidentally, “Soccer Victory Lifts Iraq; Bombs Kill 50” is the clubhouse leader for the Surreal Headline of 2007 award); and there will be no irony lost on the fact that their opponent in the Asian Cup final is the country that actaully sent 15 of the 19 hijackers into our buildings.

But ultimately it’s just sport—22 men, one ball, no hands. And athletes at this level, they aren’t political. They play for their country, but they do not die for it.