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Iraqis Celebrate Olympic Soccer Quarterfinal Win - 2004-08-21


Iraqis are celebrating their soccer team's unexpected success at the Olympics. A 1-0 quarterfinal victory against Australia puts the team firmly in the running for a medal. As VOA's Challiss McDonough reports from the Iraqi capital, Baghdad burst into celebrations when the game was over.

Three generations of one family erupt in joy. Emad Mohammed has scored the only goal of the game against Australia in the Olympic men's soccer quarterfinal.

Thirty tense minutes later, the final whistle blows and the real celebrations begin. Minibuses full of cheering young men cruise the streets, waving Iraqi flags. Radio stations play patriotic sporting-victory songs.

And all over Baghdad, Iraqis celebrate the way they always do, with guns.

The head of the household, Abu Mohammed, grabs his AK-47 and runs outside to join his neighbors and relatives, shooting into the air in jubilation.

Nobody expected the Iraqi soccer team to do so well. A year ago, Iraq was still suspended from playing in the Olympics. Violence has kept the team from being able to play at home. Their German coach quit three months ago after getting death threats.

But against all odds, the Iraqis have kept winning. First they beat Portugal, then Costa Rica. A loss to Morocco was not enough to dislodge the team from the top spot in their group, and this victory over Australia puts Iraq just two matches away from a possible medal.

Abu Mohammed says the team's unlikely success has inspired the entire nation. "Winning this game lets Iraqis feel happy, and removes the gloom. I think it should unify us," he says. "This is a good chance to forget our troubles and think of the future."

Victory in the quarterfinal means Iraq will have a real chance at a medal. Iraq has only won one Olympic medal before, in the 1960 weightlifting competition.

But whether they win or lose the next match, for most Iraqis, the soccer players are already heroes.

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