I have one positive comment to make, and one rant to deliver.
the Lions of Mesopotamia
Indomitable is one of my favourite words in the English language, and it's a fitting one to describe both the Iraqi team and the ancient people they represented with such distinction. What they face on their own soil is the type of danger and deprivation no human being should have to live in, and it's nice to see them having something to cheer about.
The Saudi coach said afterwards that the whole world wanted Iraq to win - a statement not made, I hasten to add, with any bitterness - well, I certainly did. This isn't the best place to cover the sociological and political angles of Iraq's historic victory (James Lawton does a good job on the power of the game around the world in his column), but I did want to say something about the team itself.
Despite the conditions they face, the Iraqi team have achieved some great results in the last 4 years. They were excellent in the qualifiers for both the 2004 Asian Cup and the Athens Olympics back in 2003. They sent their Olympic team to that Asian Cup and still managed to make it out of a very tough group containing the Saudis, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. At the Olympics the team made headlines in defeating the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal and Australia, and eventually finished a very credible fourth. In the qualifiers for this edition of the Asian Cup, they again performed very well, before a great run to the final of the football tournament at the Asian Games last year.
Iraq have seemingly hit upon a golden generation of players, who all played their hearts out at this tournament, and all credit to them. Their Brazilian coach has also done a great job making a team out of players of different backgrounds, many of whom had lost friends or family recently to the violence back home. A job well done all around, and I hope to see them at the next World Cup.
Edit: Jon Stewart reports on Iraq's win. Stewart is of course a proper football fan who was apparently a handy winger for his university team back in the day. My favourite part? "I'm a soccer fan first, and a person second." It's funny because it's true, and sadly in this case I think it is easy to lose perspective sometimes.
Vince Grella: making friends for Australia all around the world
First, a few background details. My special interest in the Asian Cup stems from the fact that I was in fact born in China, and if one day they manage to get together a football team - instead of a bunch of players of middling talent who all think they're God's gift to the nation and have no idea what a 'team sport' is, or what the meaning of 'passion' and 'effort' are - I may think about supporting them alongside my true love. But until then, there's no team to speak of, so I haven't got anything to support. (In contrast, the All Whites may be hopeless, but at least they're a team.)
With that in mind, take my comments on the Australians how you will. As usual, I try to be as objective as possible, but I'm only human.
I may be a Kiwi, but I cheered the Socceroos on at the World Cup for their admirable spirit and sheer nerve, which are to me (great) traits very typical of Australia in competitive sport. I felt saddened on their behalf when they were knocked out in such a horrible manner. So it was with some regret that I became increasingly uncomfortable with their attitude and their conduct both leading up to the Asian Cup and in the tournament itself.
Vince Grella's rant is reproduced here for your pleasure. What he said about 'respect' especially struck a cord with me. So, let's talk about respect, shall we?
Respect is not declaring that your team, the newcomers (invited guests, if you will) to the region, were going to win all your games and the tournament, especially if (as Grella admits) you know next to nothing about the region and the teams participating.
Respect is not declaring that ignorance as if you're proud of it.
Respect is not turning up expecting for the opposition to fall at your feet.
Respect is not voicing a disturbing level of paranoia and taking personal offence at the same old wind-up tactics employed all around the world, as if you've never played a day of competitive football in your life.
The Chinese have a saying, and it roughly means do onto others as you would want others to do onto you. (See, some things are universal.) Grella would do well to think about that.
Save your indignation for when you deserve it. It was fine after the World Cup. It's plain embarrassing now.
Referees make mistakes all the time. Sometimes the results are unfair. I completely understand feeling wronged by decisions taken against you. I've certainly been in that place before. But given Australia's (probably fair) self-image as a major power in Asian football, shouldn't they act like a major power?
I support a big club team and an acknowledged world power at nation level, and I hate it when blame is laid on everything under the sun, but no one can say 'the team just didn't play well enough'. As my Chelsea-supporting friend likes to say, if you're the bigger team, then you should overcome crappy refereeing, teams that defend with 10 men and everything else and still win. Because that proves that you're the bigger, better team. I don't agree with him over a lot, but I think he's spot on about that.
(As an aside, that goes for the people who still think there's a referee's conspiracy in La Liga in the present day for - or for that matter against - Real Madrid as well. If Barca fans really believe that we are the dominant power in Spain, can we please act like it and do something about that massive chip on our shoulder?)
I'm certain that the Socceroos will bounce back and prove to be the major power that everyone predicted they would be. Maybe they'll even play well again - as they proved in Germany (in the face of many, many nay-sayers, some in their own country), the quality is there. Hopefully this episode of gracelessness will only be a distant memory soon enough.
My sincere apologies if I've caused offence - that was certainly not my intention, and as I said above, I do genuinely like the Socceroos and want them to succeed. Perhaps more action, less talk?