While teams like England, Australia and Mexico disappointed by either failing to reach the knockout round or lost in the round of 16 at the U-20 World Cup, Iraq have captured the attention and become the darlings of the tournament. This team will play on as it advanced to the semifinals after defeating South Korea in an entertaining game that was decided by a penalty shootout.
Not many expected for Iraq to do much of anything despite the team winning the AFC (Asian Confederation) U-19 Tournament back in November 2012 due to the fact that Iraq was in a group with England, Chile and Egypt.
What has distinguished this team from group stage play has been a show of skill, understanding of their qualities, taking advantage of scoring opportunities and great team spirit.
In today’s game against South Korea, that was on display. Facing there fellow AFC rivals, Iraq gave up the first goal of the game but rebounded to take a 2-1 lead. In extra time, Iraq kept pushing the initiative and scored three minutes from time, but Korea scored to send the game into extra time.
It would have been easy for Iraq to fold in the penalty kick shootout but if anything, they showed great mental toughness and resolve as Farhan Shakor scored the penalty that sent Iraq into the semifinals and ensured they would finish no worse than fourth in the tournament.
Iraq will be a decided underdog again as they face Uruguay on Wednesday given they have played 120 minutes in each of their last two games, while Uruguay will have at least an extra day to recover. Despite that, it would not be surprising if Iraq continued its improbable run given that at each time they have been counted out, they have responded and responded in a big way.