Iraq coach hails Saudi Arabia friendly as ‘very important moment’ for country

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Iraqi fans cheer as their national football team players take part in a training session on February 27, 2018 in the city of Basra a day ahead of their friendly match against Saudi Arabia. (AFP)
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Iraqi national football team players take part in a training session on February 27, 2018 in the city of Basra a day ahead of their friendly match against Saudi Arabia. (AFP)
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Iraqi fans cheer as their national football team players take part in a training session on February 27, 2018 in the city of Basra a day ahead of their friendly match against Saudi Arabia. (AFP)
Updated 27 February 2018
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Iraq coach hails Saudi Arabia friendly as ‘very important moment’ for country

DUBAI: Former Iraq coach Jorvan Vieira believes that Wednesday’s friendly against Saudi Arabia represents a “very important moment” for football in the country.
Iraq have played just one competitive fixture at home since 2001 — a 2-0 defeat to Jordan in World Cup qualifying seven years ago. Friendly fixtures on home soil have been sporadic because of the tumultuous security situation.
International football did, however, come back to the country last year as Iraq recorded wins over Jordan and Kenya in Basra, and drew 1-1 with Syria in Karbala.
And Vieira, who famously guided the Lions of Mesopotamia to a shock Asian Cup triumph in 2007, believes Saudi Arabia’s participation in a friendly in Basra is a major milestone.
“It’s a very important moment for Iraq,” Vieira told Arab News. “The years without football have been challenging for these fans who love the game, and the national team, so much.
“It is another important step by the Iraq FA. Still there are problems in Iraq, but it’s about creating a safe environment for football to take place.
“Saudi Arabia is a big, influential country in the region — both in football and politics — and their national team is very well respected.
“This kind of match against a strong team like Saudi Arabia will raise the profile and hopefully help FIFA see that competitive matches should be considered again.”
During his time as Iraq coach, Vieira never oversaw a match on home soil. It is a source of regret for the Brazilian coach, who was made an honorary Iraqi citizen after the 2007 Asian Cup win.
“Of course, I would have loved to have coached the national team in Iraq,” Vieira said. “The Iraqi people have a great passion when the clubs in the local leagues play but for the national team it is a different level. Their love for the flag and the national team is incredible.”
That love is expected to manifest itself in a capacity crowd at the Basra Sports City Stadium, which welcomed nearly 60,000 fans to the friendly against Jordan last June.
A similar attendance is anticipated tonight, with Saudi Arabia unquestionably the highest calibre of opposition to play in Iraq since FIFA lifted its most recent ban.
The fixture also represents a thawing in political relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, which have been strained for many years. It will be the first encounter between the teams on Iraqi soil since a Gulf Cup clash in Baghdad in 1979.
“The problems between the countries are well known so there is also an opportunity to put those in order — an opportunity for peace,” said Vieira, who currently coaches UAE side Al-Ittihad Kalba. “Iraq needs to build a strong infrastructure around security and organization for foreign teams to feel comfortable and secure. For Saudi Arabia to come is a major statement that it is possible.”
Vieira has experienced the football culture of both countries having also previously managed Saudi Arabia outfit Al-Ta’ee. But there is no question that ahead of tonight’s friendly, the 64-year-old’s allegiances remain firmly with Iraq.
“There are similarities between football in Iraq and Saudi Arabia — both countries have quality players and, of course, both have brilliant supporters, too.
“But from my side, I always support Iraq and I hope Iraq can win. If they do win the match it will be a very important result for them; they are on the way to rebuilding a new national team and a new future.”


Pakistan beat Afghanistan in last over finish

Bangladesh's Mahmudullah, right, bats during the one day international cricket match of Asia Cup between Bangladesh and Afghanistan in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018. (AP)
Updated 22 September 2018
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Pakistan beat Afghanistan in last over finish

  • Hashmatullah Shahidi missed out on a maiden hundred by a mere three runs but still steered Afghanistan to a challenging 257-6

DUBAI: Experienced batsman Shoaib Malik hit a six and a boundary to pull off a sensational last over three wicket win for Pakistan against a spirited Afghanistan in the Asia Cup in Abu Dhabi on Friday.
Malik pulled the second ball of the final over by paceman Aftab Alam over the deep square leg boundary and then whacked the next to deep fine leg for a boundary as Pakistan pulled off a nerve-wracking win in 49.3 overs at Sheikh Zayed Stadium.
Pakistan, cashing a stiff 258-run target, were home and dry to start the Super Four Stage with a much needed win and now face arch rivals India in Dubai on Sunday.
Hashmatullah Shahidi missed out on a maiden hundred by a mere three runs but still steered Afghanistan to a challenging 257-6.
Pakistan were off to a disastrous start when opener Fakhar Zaman was trapped leg-before off the sixth ball of the innings by spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman for nought.
Imam-ul-Haq scored a 104-ball 80 with five boundaries and a six while Babar Azam knocked an attractive 94-ball 66 with four boundaries and a six during their innings repairing the 154-run stand for the second wicket.
But both fell within the space of four runs as spinner Rashid Khan (3-46) brought Afghanistan back in the game with the asking rate getting stiffer, as Pakistan needed 42 off the final five overs.
Despite losing skipper Sarfraz Ahmed (eight), Asif Ali (seven) and Mohammad Nawaz (ten), Malik kept his cool to sop Afghanistan from posting their third straight win after beating Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in the first round.
Earlier, Shahidi hit three consecutive boundaries in the final over off Usman Shinwari, but failed to get to three figures off the last delivery after Afghanistan won the toss and batted.
Shahidi finished with a brilliantly-paced 118-ball 97 not out, and added 94 for the fourth wicket with his skipper Asghar Afghan, who smashed five sixes and two fours in his 56-ball 67.
But it was Shahidi who held one end against Pakistan’s bowling in an innings which featured seven boundaries after left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz (3-57) had put the brakes on Afghanistan’s early progress.
Shahidi had added 63 for the third wicket with Rahmat Shah who scored a measured 36.
The total is an improvement by Afghanistan after scoring 249 and 255 in their previous two wins against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Pakistani fielders dropped four catches — three off debutant paceman Shaheen Shah Afridi who finished with 2-38.
India beat Bangladesh by seven wickets in Dubai and now meet Pakistan on Sunday, also in Dubai. Afghanistan and Bangladesh meet in Abu Dhabi on the same day.
Top two teams from the Super Four Stages will play the final in Dubai on September 28.