For Iraqi Soccer Champs, Victory Is Marred By Violence

Younis Mahmoud's victory celebrations were tempered by reality.

Mahmoud scored the winning goal in Iraq's 1-0 Asian Cup final win over Saudi Arabia on Sunday, yet he feared for his life if he went home to celebrate the stunning victory.

"I don't want the Iraqi people to be angry with me," he said. But, "If I go back with the team, anybody could kill me or try to hurt me.

"One of my closest friends, they (the authorities) came to arrest him, and for one year neither me nor his family knew where he is."

The Iraqi captain — who like the rest of the team wore a black arm band to remember the dozens killed by carbombers following the side's semifinal victory over South Korea on Wednesday — said the American presence in his homeland was a "problem."

"I want America to go out," he said. "Today, tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, but out. I wish the American people didn't invade Iraq and hopefully it will be over soon."

A first Asian Cup title has provided rare joy for people in Iraq amid continuing ethnic, religious and sectarian violence.

The team's players do not live in Iraq and work for clubs across the Middle East — Mahmoud works for Qatar club Al Gharafa and was leading scorer in the domestic league last season.

Iraq has not been allowed to host a match at home in 17 years, and even preparing for major events takes place on foreign soil.

The Iraqi squad gathered in Jordan ahead of the Asian Cup.

On Sunday, the government in Iraq enforced a vehicle ban in an effort to prevent a repeat of the two car bombings that tore into people celebrating Iraq's semifinal win over South Korea on Wednesday.

Mahmoud said that one of the victims was a small child.

"His mother said when her child was killed in front of her, she didn't cry. She said, 'I present my son as a sacrifice for the national team.' Then we had to win."

Mahmoud scored the winner on 71 minute after Iraq had dominated most of the match in front of some 60,000 fans, most of them Indonesians cheering on the underdogs.

When the final whistle blew, many players pressed their heads to the ground in prayer.

"Thanks be to God," said defender Bassim Abbas. "I am happy because the people in Iraq are happy."