Iraqi dream at U-20 World Cup continues after epic penalty win over South Korea

Iraqi dream at U-20 World Cup continues after epic penalty win over South Korea

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Iraqi dream at U-20 World Cup continues after epic penalty win over South Korea

Iraq's Ali Faez, right, celebrates after scoring his team's opening goal during the Under-20 World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Iraq and South Korea, in Kayseri, July 7. AP photo

The fairy tale continues for Iraq after a sensational penalty shootout victory over South Korea at the men’s U-20 FIFA World Cup in Kayseri lifted the conflict-torn nation’s youth team into the tournament’s semi-finals and a date with Uruguay.

Three times Iraq forged ahead in its bid to reach the semis, only to be pegged back each time within minutes by a Korean side that had every intent of upsetting the Hollywood script of an Iraqi victory. In the end, football’s romantics were not to be disappointed, as man-of-the-match Farhan Shakor slotted home the decisive sixth penalty to give his side a 5-4 win on spot kicks after the teams entered the shootout tied 3-3 after 120 minutes of drama.

Iraq forged ahead in the 21st minute when Ali Faez converted a penalty. Kwang Chang-hoon quickly equalized with a header on a well-taken throw-in, but the Middle Eastern outsiders again put themselves in front when Shakor scored his first of the match on a rebound from Ali Qasim’s acrobatic attempt late in the first half. Lee Gwang-hun, however, restored parity for the Koreans at the beginning of the second half.

Last equalizer with last kick

With nothing to separate the two Asian representatives after 90 minutes, the match headed into extra time, where Shakor appeared set to send his country into the semis when he poked home a poorly cleared throw-in in the 118th minute with both teams flagging ahead of the looming shootout. But there was still time for more drama, as Jung Hyun-cheol’s speculative shot – the last kick of the 120 minutes – from distance took a deflection off Iraq’s last man back and looped into the top corner to send the match into an improbable penalty shootout. 

The ending to extra time conjured up images of Turkey’s sensational last-second equalizer against Croatia – after falling behind moments earlier – at Euro 2008, but while Turkey went on to defeat a crestfallen Croatian side on penalties, this year’s Iraqi side put its shock aside to hold its nerve in the shootout. All square at 4-4, Iraqi goalkeeper Mohammed Hameed saved Lee’s penalty brilliantly, setting the stage for Shakor’s coup de grace.

Iraq stunned England to grab a late equalizer in a 2-2 draw in its first group match of the tournament before dispatching Chile and Egypt to finish top of Group E. The fairy tale then continued with a 1-0 extra-time win over Paraguay, with Shakor again providing the late heroics.

Iraq’s youth team is bidding to register its biggest success on the international football stage since the country’s senior team slew heavily fancied Saudi Arabia 1-0 to win the 2007 Asian Cup despite being forced to train and play its matches outside of Iraq due to security fears.

In the day’s other quarterfinal at Istanbul’s Türk Telekom Arena, Ghana prevailed 4-3 in a see-saw, extra-time battle over Chile to set up a semi-final clash against France, who had previously eliminated hosts Turkey.

The match entered extra time deadlocked at two apiece, only for Chile to forge ahead before two strikes from the Africans in the last seven minutes of the extra period, including the headed winner from Ebenezer Assufiah with the last action of the match.