Iraq skip past Ticos to reach quarters (0:2)
Iraq became the first side from Group D to earn a berth in the last eight of the Men's Olympic Football Tournament after a deserved 2-1 win over Costa Rica in Athens. The Boys from Baghdad turned on the style in the second half and guaranteed their progress with another explosive display of attacking football. The Ticos, for their part, will have to await the outcome of their final group game against Portugal before finding out their fate.
Just as they did in Patras, the colourful Iraqi following made their presence felt as they roared on their idols to glory. The Karaiskaki Stadium was awash with red, white and black
after second-half goals from Mohammed Hawar and Karim Mahdi fired the Asian outfit into the quarter-finals with their second straight win.
"Right now, we know there are joyous scenes on the streets of Iraq. I am so pleased with what we've achieved and I want to pay tribute to all my players. They have been wonderful ambassadors for our country here in Athens," said their euphoric coach Hamd after the game.
The first half was a lacklustre affair with both sides squandering possession and chances. Iraq looked hurried early on, perhaps feeling the pressure of their anxious supporters, while
Rodrigo Kenton's charges again lacked pace and composure in the last third of the field.
It was left to Iraq's Mohammed Emad to take the game to the Ticos, and he went close to breaking the deadlock after one of his trademark breaks down the right ended with a stinging shot that was just pushed wide (19'). As for Costa Rica, they rarely threatened Sabri Tour's goal, and had to make do with some valiant efforts from Pablo Brenes.
Both sides had their chances to get on the scoresheet before the break. First Akram Nashat missed a double opportunity to beat the outstanding Neighel Drummond in goal (30'). Then minutes late, only the crossbar denied Junior Diaz after he had sprung the Iraqi offside trap (34').
Early in the second half, as the Central Americans pushed up in search of goal, they left spaces at the back for the Iraqi counter-attack. Costa Rica's Diaz broke down the left and swung in a low cross which Alavaro Saborio missed by a matter of inches (51'). The Ticos were celebrating moments later when they thought they had scored a perfectly good goal. However, Charles Teemarii, the Tahiti official, ruled it out for offside. "I don't understand why that goal was disallowed. If it had stood, the outcome would have been completely different. But what can you do? These things happen in football," the Costa Rican coach lamented afterwards.
Iraq, relieved with the let off, then took the game by the scruff of the neck. Mohammed Hawar seized on a bouncing ball in the area and finally broke Drummond's resistance with a low left-foot strike that sparked unbridled celebrations in the stadium (0-1; 67').
The frantic efforts by the Tico players to get back on level terms only saw them go further behind. Hawar, who had looked very accomplished all night on the left, whipped in a pinpoint cross that fell perfectly for Karim Mahdi. The Al Talaba player guided the ball home half with his head and half with his shoulder to score his side's second and the game's final goal (0-2; 72').
"We looked a lot better in the second half and I was impressed. This team is capable of great things and I think we can continue to progress in this tournament," enthused Hamd at the post-match press conference.
At 2-0 there was simply no way back for a Costa Rican side that seemed bereft of ideas by the end. For Iraq, the difference could have been even greater by the time the whistle went on another magical night. Amazingly, their thoughts now turn to the quarter-finals.