Iraqis triumph over Portugal 4-2 in debut

War-weary Iraq marked its return to Olympic soccer after a 16-year absence with a fairy-tale 4-2 victory over Portugal yesterday, as highly rated Italy scrambled a lucky 2-2 draw with Ghana. Iraq, who made the quarterfinals of the Asian Cup in China last month, went into the Group D match as underdogs against a Portuguese side boasting a wealth of top class talent, including Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo. The players have endured a chaotic build-up to the Athens Games, with the ravages of war in their homeland forcing them to play all their home qualifying matches in neutral Jordan. Iraq took the upper hand in a controversial match against Portugal when the Europeans had Fulham’s Luis Boa Morte sent off in the second half with the scores locked at 2-2. Iraq had fallen behind through a Haidar Jabar own goal before hitting back to lead thanks to Emad Mohammed and Hawar Mulla Mohammed. Portugal was level by the break, thanks to Bosingwa, before the match exploded in the second half when Boa Morte saw a red card which paved the way for Younis Mahmoud to score the third. Substitute Salih Sadir wrapped up the famous upset win in injury time. Portugal meanwhile was lucky not to have been reduced to 10 earlier in the match when Ronaldo escaped with a yellow card after elbowing Younis Mahmoud, causing a deep cut on the Iraqi player’s brow. In Group B, Alberto Gilardino grabbed an equalizer seven minutes from time, as Italy fought back from two goals down to scrape a 2-2 draw against Ghana, the 1992 Olympic bronze medalists. The Parma marksman, the second highest scorer in Italy last season with 23 goals, pounced after Ghana goalkeeper George Owu had failed to hold on to his first shot to save Italy’s blushes and rescue a point. The Italians, who in June won the European under-21 championships in Germany, provided all the flair and neat touches but they were stunned by two clinical first-half strikes from Emmanuel Pappoe and Stephen Appiah. Coached by 1982 World Cup-winner Claudio Gentile, Italy hit back shortly after the break through Giampiero Pinzi and Gilardino denied Ghana a precious victory with his late leveler. In yesterday’s other games, Paraguay defeated Asian powerhouses Japan 4-3 in a Group B game in Thessaloniki while Morocco and Costa Rica drew 0-0 in Group D. Goals from striker Pablo Gimenez, Edgar Barreto, Jose Cardozo and Aureliano Torres secured the points for the Paraguayans, who withstood a fierce late rally from Japan to clinch victory. (AFP)

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