JAKARTA (Reuters) - Jorvan Vieira said he always knew there was something special about the Iraqi team he had been asked to coach when he first met them at a training camp in Jordan.
The Brazilian had been charged with one of the most difficult challenges any coach had ever taken on: to mould a team of Shi‘ite, Sunni and Kurdish players into a championship winning unit in the space of two months.
Vieira had his initial doubts when only a handful of players turned up to the first training session but soon discovered a rare quality about his squad.
“We all know the problems in Iraq but I have learnt that they are a fantastic people. They have an extraordinary power,” he told a news conference after their 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia in Sunday’s final.
”We did not have much time so we had to work quickly. We sometimes fought, we sometimes argued, but we got the work done.
“It was very difficult but I am very proud of these boys.”
Vieira, who confirmed he was not seeking an extension to his two month contract after the final, knew his players had all been touched by the war and it wasn’t long until he too was affected.
“Our team physio, he was a good man. He was killed in a bomb blast last month. He left behind a wife and four kids,” Vieira said.
The Iraqi players were able to mask their grief throughout the tournament although there were constant reminders of the sectarian violence at home.
The entire squad wore black armbands during the final in memory of the 50 people killed by suicide bombers after Wednesday’s semi-final win over South Korea.
The Iraqi captain Younis Mahmoud, who was named best player of the tournament after scoring the winning goal in the final, said the team had been determined to win after watching a television report from Iraq with the mother of one of the victims.
“There was this mother who had seen her little boy killed by a bomb after the match and she was saying he had been sacrificed so that we would win the match,” Mahmoud said.
“We knew we had to win the match for her and so many other people.”