Iraqi Coach Adnan Hamad couldn't complete more than a few sentences without his cell phone ringing. His team is one step away from an improbable trip to the medal podium, and he was more than happy to spread the word to a country in dire need of good news.
"We have spoken to our families already about this victory," Hamad said after yesterday's 1-0 quarterfinal win over Australia. "They're all very happy. Everybody is out in the streets, ecstatic."
The victory put the war-torn nation in position to compete for only the second Olympic medal in its history. Iraq will play Paraguay, which defeated South Korea, in the semifinals Tuesday in Thessaloniki.
Even a loss in the semis would put the Iraqis in the bronze medal game, where they could become the first athletes from their country to win a medal since Abdul Wahid Aziz's weightlifting bronze in Rome in 1960.
"There have been many sacrifices made for this match tonight. . . . Our families are unhappy and very sad," Hamad said through an interpreter. "They are all surrounded by difficult conditions and tough situations in our country. And we are trying to offer the best we can with a little happiness for our people."
The only goal of the game came on Emad Mohammed's 12-yard bicycle kick in the 64th minute, but it was more than enough to satisfy more than 1,000 chanting, flag-waving Iraqi supporters at Heraklio's Pankrito Stadium on the island of Crete.
The fact that the Iraqis qualified for the Athens Games was a remarkable achievement. They clinched a berth in May, just three months after the country was reinstated by the International Olympic Committee following a nine-month absence. The Iraqi Olympic Committee was previously run by Saddam Hussein's son, Uday, who tortured players when they fell out of favor.
Two months after qualifying, the team's German coach, Bernd Stange, resigned because of safety reasons and was replaced by Hamad, his assistant and a former Iraqi player. The team could not play any home games because of the war and had virtually no funding.
"Things were confusing for us," Mohammed said. "We came here to play, to participate in the Olympic Games, but it's quite difficult to have our minds only on the game."
Asked if it was any consolation losing to a team with such a remarkable story, Australia Coach Frank Farina said, "Definitely not."
* PARAGUAY 3, SOUTH KOREA 2: Striker Fredy Bareiro scored twice as Paraguay survived a late comeback to beat South Korea in Thessaloniki. Paraguay took a 3-0 lead on goals from Bareiro and Jose Cardozo, but Lee Chun Soo brought the South Koreans back with goals in the 74th and 79th minutes.
* ITALY 1, MALI 0: Cesare Bovo pounced in the 26th minute of extra time in Athens to send Italy through and deny Africa a third straight Olympic title.
The result was greeted by jeering from Greek fans unhappy at the Italians' physical tactics.
* ARGENTINA 4, COSTA RICA 0: In Patras, Carlos Tevez notched a hat trick for Argentina, which has not won Olympic gold in any sport since the 1952 Helsinki Games. Cesar Delgado added the other goal for Argentina, which will play Italy on Tuesday in Athens.