Iraq rue ‘missed opportunity’ after Gulf Cup defeat to the UAE

Iraq players react after losing a penalty shootout to the UAE in the Gulf Cup semifinal in Kuwait. (AFP)
Updated 03 January 2018

Iraq rue ‘missed opportunity’ after Gulf Cup defeat to the UAE

LONDON: The experience Iraq possess and the talent in their squad they should have won the Gulf Cup. There should be no excuses. The cup was there for the taking for Basim Qasim’s side.
From there Iraq looked as if they were set to power onto the final and win a first Gulf Cup in 30 years but they fell at the last hurdle. UAE and Iraq were the two best teams in the tournament and this really should have been the final.
It had all the hallmarks of the 2013 final in Manama, where Iraq were again defeated by the team from the Emirates, and again after extra-time. They will be sick of the sight of the UAE. This time the exit was much crueller as it came via penalties. The Iraqi sports media lauded its heroic players and hailed the side after the heartbreaking loss five years ago, pronouncing that they “may had lost a Gulf Cup final but they gained a new team,” but this one will be viewed very much as a missed opportunity, particularly with Oman lying in wait in the final.
Qasim will be disappointed as he found himself outwitted tactically by Alberto Zaccheroni, the UAE’s wily old fox of an Italian coach who shut the game down by stifling the movement of Iraq’s wide-men Ali Husni and Humam Tariq. Lone center-forward Aymen Hussein was swallowed up by UAE’s three-man defense which is yet to concede a goal in the tournament. Emirati commentators noted that Zaccheroni’s brand of football was “like watching a horror show”, but that won’t bother the former AC Milan coach one iota now they are in the final.
Qasim made mistakes but he is the man to lead the team forward. He has breathed new life into the Iraqi team after the disastrous World Cup qualifying campaign and unearthed a gem in Hussein Ali. He should be the player the team is built around for the Asian Cup next year. Much will be expected there.

Historymaker: Saudi teen secures Kingdom’s first ever Olympic gold medal

Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Al-Assiri wins historic first gold for the country.
Updated 18 October 2018

Historymaker: Saudi teen secures Kingdom’s first ever Olympic gold medal

  • The victory marked Saudi’s third time on the podium at the two-week Youth Olympics
  • I have been working towards this moment for 10 years, said the gold medalist

BUENOS AIRES: It is said that the karate-ka who has given the necessary years of commitment and meditation to the sport is both fearless and tranquil. They can, it is said, be calm even in a burning building.

Last night, inside a furnace-like Europe Pavilion at the Youth Olympic Park, and in front of Thomas Bach, the President of the International Olympic Committee, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Al-Assiri won the Kingdom its first ever Olympic gold medal. And welcomed it, initially at least, with utmost calm. 

Defeating Masaki Yamaoka of Japan 8-0 in the Men’s Kumite -61kg final, the 17-year-old Saudi immediately thanked his opponent and bowed to the various officials, before turning to his coach, removing his red gloves slowly, and greeting him with a starch salute. Only afterwards, once these rituals of respect were over and his opponent had slipped away, did Al-Assiri explode with joy, his face contorting into beautiful agony as he screamed in guttural Arabic and jumped around the mat.

“I am so happy, so proud,” he said, his prize glinting in the spotlight of the world’s media. “This is the first gold medal for Saudi Arabia and our first medal ever in karate. I have been working towards this moment for 10 years, especially in the past two when my training intensified. I came for gold and this is the result of years of serious work. It was very difficult, but I am just so proud. Thank you to Allah.”

The victory marked Saudi’s third time on the podium at the two-week Youth Olympics, after bronze medals in weightlifting and 400m Hurdles. It is a stellar return for a country that brought only nine athletes to Argentina and has won just one medal at this level before, a bronze in equestrian four years ago. Yousef Jalaiden, the chef de mission for the Saudi delegation, had confidently predicted medals earlier this week, but even he admits expectations have been exceeded.

“We are very happy right now,” Jalaiden said, watching as Al-Assiri, wrapped in the Saudi flag, posed for photos with Prince Fahd bin Juluwe bin Abdulaziz bin Musaed, the head of the delegation. “It’s our best achievement ever at an Olympics — be it Youth or the full Olympics. We are so happy — we hoped for three medals, like I said before, and we got them,”

Karate is making its Olympic debut this week ahead of Tokyo 2020 and Assiri had secured his place after winning at the first qualifying event in Croatia this summer. In front of vocal support from Saudis and Egyptians, he was handed the historic victory after his offensive front-footed display culminated with Yamaoka fouling four times during their bout.

“During training, people from other countries were all telling us Mohammed would take gold, but for us it was never a certainty,” Jalaiden added. “We expected him to reach the final, but when you get to a final, anything can happen. He has been training exceptionally hard though and it has all paid off.”

Earlier in the afternoon, Egypt’s Yasmin Nasr El-Gewily won the Women’s Kumite 53kg final, defeating Japan’s Rinka Tahata 2-1. “Egypt are our neighbours and we have an excellent relationship with them, so today it is like our nation is one,” said Jalaiden. “We have both enjoyed great success here.”