Do you believe in miracles? Iraqis do.
If there was ever an example of the power of soccer, this was it. Iraq, under incredible odds, beat Saudi Arabia today in Jakarta, Indonesia 1-0 to win the Asian Cup–a victory that has, if only temporarily, turned the war-torn nation’s streets into avenues of mass celebration.
From the start you could sense that the Iraqi squad was playing for more than just a trophy. Their midfield was tenacious, their defense was almost impenetrable and their fitness was astounding. For a country known for their oil, they were clearly running on high octane-as they had all tournament long, which no one gave them a chance of winning.
Team captain Younis Mahmoud Khalef’s game winning header off a corner kick in the 71st minute was the deserved result after frustrating and out-hustling a tough Saudi Arbian side for the majority of the game.
After the final whistle blew, CNN International broke away from their regularly scheduled programming and went live to the streets of Iraq where the reality of the victory was just beginning to sink in. A reporter inside a Baghdad cafe could barely be heard over of all the singing, cheering and waving of Iraqi flags going on all around her. It was a scene, she quickly and accurately pointed out, that no one had seen in a very, very long time.
Most amazing of all was a camera overlooking the Baghdad skyline that picked up the audio of hundreds of rounds of celebratory gunfire going off in the streets. It was like the 4rth of July without the fire works.
The only disappointing thing of all this was how our “World Sports Leader” covered it. Actually, they didn’t “cover” it at all. In what was arguably the most important victory for any nation since the U.S. beat the Soviets in ice hockey in the ’80 Olympic Games, both ESPN and ESPN News went with a rerun of SportsCenter and a show about Area Football. What??? Does anything that happens outside of the United States matter to these people?? Will this even make their Top 10 Plays Of The Day? It was absolutely appalling.
Broadcasting aside, the real question is whether this historic victory will have any palpable effect on Iraq and the sectarian violence that goes on there every day.
Unfortunately, I seriously doubt it.
But what WAS encouraging was that for 90 minutes today, terrorists, pacifists, Sunnis and Shiites forgot all about who they hated and came together over the game they loved. Here’s to having that moment last.