| BANGKOK, July 26
BANGKOK, July 26 Iraq's beleaguered soccer team
are pinning their hopes on a fairytale ending to their Asian
Cup story after logistical blunders and slapdash preparations
plunged their campaign into disarray even before a ball had
Against all odds, the unfancied Iraqis beat twice-champions
South Korea 4-3 in a dramatic penalty shootout on Wednesday to
reach their first Asian Cup final, bringing some rare cheer to
the war-scarred Iraqi people.
The team's Brazilian coach Jorvan Vieira, who has worked
with 26 clubs and five national teams, says his short-term job
with Iraq has been the toughest of his career.
"Everything has gone wrong -- hotels, food, equipment,
players, training, logistics. You cannot imagine what we have
been through," Vieira told Reuters in a telephone interview on
"Because of this, no one expected us to be where we are.
What we have done has totally shocked people."
Vieira had only two months to prepare the squad in the
safety of neighbouring Jordan, but when stubborn Baghdad clubs
refused to release players, his first training sessions were
attended by only six people.
On the eve of national team games, players would pull out
of the squad to return to their club sides, Vieira said, and he
was far from popular with local coaches, who saw him as a
foreign intruder on their turf.
Some of his players have been exposed to the grim reality
of life in Iraq and are tormented by death threats and
kidnappings and the loss of loved ones to car bombings and
The 54-year-old also inherited a squad split by sectarian
infighting between Shi'tes and minority Sunni Arabs.
"I had problems with the group, there was no kind of unity,
the relationship between the players was bad," he said. "I had
to find a solution to this, and got them to like each other and
not bring their personal or political differences here.
"We could not have them at war with each other," he added.
Iraq's 1-1 draw with hosts Thailand in the opening match of
the Asian Cup came somewhat as a miracle given their haphazard
run-up to the competition.
They arrived in Bangkok with old kit and without training
equipment, and were joined on the eve of their first match by
two jetlagged, match-weary players, who were detained for eight
hours by Thai immigration officials after more than a day of
Bangkok's notorious traffic snarl-ups disrupted training
sessions, which often took place late at night in the pouring
rain, and their unfamiliarity with the fiery Thai cuisine saw
them order Middle-Eastern takeaways every night or dine in the
city's predominantly Arab districts.
After beating Vietnam in the quarter-finals, Iraq arrived
in Kuala Lumpur to find only seven rooms were available for
their 30 players, who spent much of the day waiting in the
To make matters worse, they discovered their rooms were
being occupied by the Iranian national team, who had already
been knocked out of the tournament.
Vieira is hoping Iraq's nightmare story will have a happy
ending, though, when they meet thee-times winners Saudi Arabia
in Sunday's all-Middle East final in Jakarta.
"This has all made us closer as a team and stronger as
players and as men," Vieira said. "The players have problems in
their lives, they are not normal footballers.
"We are all chasing this victory, it would be something
very very special for the players and the people."