Iraq stun Korea to reach final
Iraq stunned Korea Republic 4-3 on penalties to reach the AFC Asian Cup final for the first time on Wednesday. The tournament's surprise package will face either defending champions Japan or Saudi Arabia in Sunday's decider in Jakarta.
The epic semi-final went to a shootout after both sides failed to score in over two hours of sustained committed football. In emotional scenes at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium, Iraqi players rushed to their supporters to grab national flags, while other players wept with joy when realisation hit home that they had won.
The decisive breakthrough came in the shootout when goalkeeper Noor Sabri, the man of the match, saved Yeom Ki-hun's attempt before Kim Jung-woo's shot hit the post and bounced away.
Iraq are now just one match away from completing their greatest footballing achievement, after they reached the semi-final of the 2004 Athens Olympics and the final of last year's Asian Games in Doha. It was heartbreak, though, for the Koreans, who were confident of making the final after their penalty shootout win over Iran in their quarter-final last Sunday.
Iraq had the better scoring chance in an uninspiring first 45 minutes, with midfielder Karrar Jassim just failing to get his head on to a cross from Haidar Abdul Amer after 28 minutes. Skipper Younis Mahmoud had two chances, hitting the side-netting in the 16th minute and just sending his shot wide of the diving Lee Woon-jae late in the half.
The Koreans had several chances, but Iraq keeper Noor Sabri had
little trouble dealing with Yeom Ki-hun's tame downward header
and punching clear a Lee Chun-soo free-kick a few minutes before
half-time. However, Korea Republic ramped up the pressure in the
second half with winger Choi Sung-kuk's pass blocked by Ali
Hussein Rehema with two team-mates in a scoring position.
Noor punched away another attack as the Koreans kept up the pressure on Iraq's goal. Then Yeom Ki-hun's left-foot free-kick almost caught out the Iraqi goalkeeper minutes later, but he scrambled it clear as the Koreans mounted more pressure.
Again the Koreans pressed and defender Kim Jin-kyu's header from a corner just missed the target. Lee Chun-soo had a glorious chance but sent his first-time volley sailing past the post with Noor beaten.
Choi was stretchered off with five minutes of normal time left to make way for Middlesbrough striker Lee Dong-guk. The Koreans peppered the Iraqi goal in the final minutes of regulation time, but they failed to break the deadlock.
Hawar Mohammed had a great chance to put Iraq ahead when Haidar's cross had the Korean defence in trouble, and Hawar's shot hit the inside of the post and rolled along the goal-line for Kim Jin-kyu to hack it away before the game went to penalties.