PATRAS, Greece, Aug. 12 -- Muhamad Bilal could contain his emotions no longer. Surrounded by thousands of deliriously happy Iraqi soccer fans like himself, he could not resist the urge to call his brother in war-torn Iraq when a first-half goal put his beloved team on top of Portugal. Bilal shouted joy into his cell phone, but could not make a word of sense out of his brother, who was shouting every bit as loudly from his home far north of Baghdad.
Across the aisle from Bilal stood Tamimi Zaki, who emigrated from his native Iraq in 1993 after the first Gulf War to live in Sweden. The bare-chested Zaki was engulfed in the cheers, for Iraq was not just playing in the Olympics for the first time since 1988, but for the first time since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.
Iraq's Sadir Salih, left, celebrates with Abbas Bassim and Haidar Abdul Razzaq after scoring during their Group D match.
(Ioannis Androutsopoulos - AP)
Zaki and others -- many of them transplanted Iraqis now living in Greece and other European countries -- didn't know whether to laugh or cry when Iraq shocked powerful Portugal, 4-2, in a first-round match Thursday at Pampeloponnisiako Stadium. The Iraqi players formed a human chain after their emotional victory against a gold medal contender, walking hand-in-hand off the field while their fans waved the country's red, white and green flags and chanted victory salutes.
"It's mixed feelings," Zaki said. "People are dying, and here we are watching this. But we must continue to live."
Zaki then turned, looked out over the stadium seats, and gestured with his arm toward the expanse of Iraqi fans there to cheer on their team.
"You see," Zaki said, "there are Kurds, Shiites, Muslims, Christians and Sunnis. We are united. We have no problems between us."
None, at least, that a first-round victory won't soothe.
Said Iraq's coach, Adnan Hamad: "I think now everybody will forget the problems. It is very important for us, this moment. We tried to make our people happy today."
An own goal provided Portugal the initial lead, but it would be its only lead. Iraq tied the score and then forged ahead on goals by Emad Mohammed and Hawar Mohammed. Portugal tied it again just before the end of the half.
But it was Younis Mahmoud, considered to be Iraq's best player, who provided the dramatics. With his forehead bandaged by a wound suffered in the first half, Mahmoud struck for the go-ahead goal 56 minutes in and Salih Sadir made it 4-2 when he scored in the waning moments.
"This is very important for the people of Iraq because it is the biggest chance to forget the pain and what happened during the war," Iraqi midfielder and captain Abdul Wahab Abu al Hail said. "We were very tired. But we believed, and finally we have succeeded."
GHANA 2, ITALY 2: Alberto Gilardino scored with six minutes remaining to help the heavily favored Italians salvage a tie.
PARAGUAY 4, JAPAN 3: Jose Cardozo scored two first-half goals and Pablo Gimenez had a goal and an assist to lead the South Americans.
COSTA RICA 0, MOROCCO 0: The Moroccans were forced to play a man short after Jamal Alioui received a red card in the 59th minute.