The power of sport was on display for at least one day in Iraq, as the war-torn nation celebrated an Asian Cup title.
A 71st minute header from Younes Mahmoud earned Iraq a historic 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia and their first-ever AFC Asian Cup title at Gelora Bung Karno Stadium.
The 24-year-old striker converted Hawar Mulla Mohammed’s corner to give the war-torn nation the trophy and end Saudi Arabia’s hopes of a record-breaking fourth continental title.
The win is the pinnacle of a fairytale run to the title by the Iraqis, who were forced to prepare for the tournament outside their homeland as a result of the continuing security situation.
Iraq made the first foray towards goal in the sixth minute when Qusay Munir managed to fire a shot that was just wide of Yasser Al Mosailem’s right post.
Two minutes later Mahmoud’s overhead kick angled across the face of the Saudi goal, while Karrar Jassim’s close control saw him beat two defenders before firing a shot that Al Mosailem had to steer around a post.
Despite going into the final as the less fancied of the two teams, the Iraqis always looked the more likely to score and Jorvan Vieira’s team tried their luck again three minutes before the break when Jassim sent his effort wide from long range.
Yasser Al Qahtani threatened for the Saudis prior to the interval when he beat the Iraqi defence, only to see his shot deflected wide for a corner.
But that was a rare foray forward by a Saudi side pinned back in their own half for much of the first 45 minutes, and it was a similar story in the second half.
Nashat Akram’s shot on the turn was blocked by defender Walid Abdrabh in the 57th minute, while five minutes later, Al Mosailem was forced into a double save to keep the scores level as Iraq hit on the break.
Mahmoud’s effort was the first to be kept out by the Al Ahli goalkeeper when he parried away from goal only for the ball to fall at the feet of Akram, but his attempt was also blocked by Al Mosailem.
That came just seconds after Noor Sabri had dived at full stretch to his right to deny Taiseer Al Jassam from distance at the other end.
The Iraqi dominance continued, however, as Mohammed’s inviting cross was headed narrowly wide by Mahmoud in the 66th minute.
But five minutes later the Al Gharafa striker made no mistake.
Mohammed sent over a corner from the Iraqi right, Al Mosailem miss-read the flight of the ball and Mahmoud appeared at the far post to head home.
With 13 minutes to go Iraq could have made the game safe when Akram released Mahmoud, only for Al Mosailem to redeem himself by saving with his feet.
But it proved to be insignificant as the tournament underdogs held on for victory and recorded a truly remarkable triumph against all the odds.