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Saudi Arabia's true prince of the fields

Asian Cup 2007
All-Islam Showdown

Assuming the Iraqi soccer team doesn’t get blown up between now and then, and assuming the Saudi Arabian team doesn’t hijack itself and slam into one of Jakarta’s 340 skyscrapers, the Iraq-Saudi final in the Asian Cup is on Sunday at 8:30 a.m. Eastern (3:30 p.m. Mecca time, 4:30 p.m. Baghdad time), but so far I’ve only found it broadcast live on Setanta Sports (which I recommend). Let's preview.

To reach the final, the Saudis tied Korea, then beat Indonesia, Bahrain, Uzbekistan and Japan, 3-2, that last the Wahhabites’ most impressive God-is-great moment. The Iraqis, besides beating their way out of Abu Ghraib for the occasion and eluding the ever-eludable CIA, tied Thailand and Oman only to beat Australia, then beat Vietnam in the quarterfinal (who said Iraq isn’t Vietnam?) and won on penalty kicks against Korea in the semi. It should be a fun final, especially if we get a good Shiite-Sunni wave going in the stands. Osama AND Bud Selig may be at the game, presumably attached to the same keg and dialysis machine.

But who are these guys, these football players whose names sound so indistinguishable from that of Jude the Obscure, in Arabic lettering? Here we are, fawning over the vapid and hyper-hyped likes of David Bekham and his playing Columbus to American soccer while these unknowns are playing their heart out in near anonymity, so far as globalism’s celebrity barometer is concerned. But their anonymity, in our eyes at least, is only reflective of our blindness to their celebrity in their own land. They are stars. They are revered. They just aren’t the kind of stars we’re familiar with. So we assume they don’t exist. Who knew the first thing about these men? As an exercise in looking behind the veil of my own ignorance I went on a small hunt for information about a few of them, a matter of honoring their success by learning a bit more than their names. It’s not easy.

Ahmed Ali Jaber

Iraq’s goalkeeper, Ahmed Ali Jaber, two-thirds namesake of one of the greatest Pakistani novelists (1910-1994; his “Twilight in Delhi” is the “Dubliners” of Delhi), seems to fancy the Barthez look with his bald, and apparently bold, demeanor: he was red-carded for cussing out a Chinese player during the quarterfinal. He plays in Iraq for a club called Al-Zawraa, which happens to be the 100 percent namesake of an insurgent satellite television station possibly broadcast from Syria. The Baghdad-based team was founded in 1969, which happens to be the year Saddam Hussein solidified his power. Saddam was a big soccer fan. And Al-Zawraa has won eleven national titles. It sounds like Iraq’s Real Madrid (the team that Franco loved so much). Ahmed Ali Jaber was apparently “one of the stars at the 2000 Asian Youth Championship in Tehran, Iran. […] He was the player who clinched Iraq's place in the final of the Asian Youth Championship against Japan, beating Iran 7-6 on penalties after extra-time. The Iraqi number one hammered home his spot-kick after saving the effort of Iranian striker Mansour Jamalyan and two other Iranian players, Ahmed then raced the length of the field to celebrate with the Iraqi fans before collapsing in a heap, overcome by the emotion. However, he missed the final due to a yellow card he picked up after time wasting in the 90th minute.” That temper seems to be a running theme in Jaber’s style.

Operation Iraqi Hunk

Younis Mahmoud, captain of the Iraqi side—28 goals in 47 caps for the national team, including three goals against Saudi Arabia in two games—is one of the Asian Cup’s leading scorers, with three goals (only Japan’s Naohiro Takahara has four). This guy has his own web site, his own slick hair, his own rumors. This is the top item at his web site as I’m writing this: “Many news sources have been talking about an incident that occurred between Younis Mahmoud and Karar Jassim during the Asian cup quarterfinal match. Here is what Younis had to say regarding this issue: ‘Karar is a very talented and well mannered player. Karar is my brother and there is no trouble what so ever between us. As a matter of fact, there was an incident between Karar and another Iraqi player during the match, but I cooled things down by calming down Karar. After calming Karar down, many people though that the trouble was between me and Karar.’” But sources tell ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN that Karar was, in fact, fighting with Younis, that the two had been arguing about the Democrats’ YouTube debate, and that the fight snowballed when Karar called Younis a Hillary lover. (Younis is partial to John Edwards because of John Edwards’ hairdresser, whom Younis idolizes.)

Among the Saudis, Ahmed Al Mousa, Malek Maaz and Taiseer Al Jassam have each scored two goals so far in their campaign. Al Mousa, however, is the one and only true prince and king of the field. If Al Mousa, the captain, were on an American soccer field, American broadcasters, who don’t know their derriere from diversity, would call him “African-American.” Al Mousa, you see, is black, but he’s neither African nor American. And yes, Virginia, there are black people who are neither, although Saudi Arabia’s blacks have this in common with America’s: they’re considered the scum of their society too, held down and discriminated against with the rabidity of a Theodore Bilbo. Here he is, Al Mousa scoring a beautiful goal against Uzbekistan, in a terrifically put-together string of passes from midfield. No web site for this guy. He’s 30 years old, and looks all heart. I’ll be rooting for him on Sunday, although it’s a hard choice, for a fallen Catholic, in this close-to-all-Sunni showdown. The Iraqis have never won the Asian Cup. Saudi Arabia have either won or been in the final of the Asian Cup for six of the last seven tournaments since 1984. They has won it three times. (The Cup was held in Lebanon, of all places, in 2000, and I knew absolutely nothing about it. Even though that was the year I went back to the old country.)

One final twist. Saudi Arabia’s coach? Brazilian. Helio Cesar dos Anjos. Iraq’s coach? Brazilian. Jorvan Vieira. For once, the Americans don’t have their paw prints all over this one. Predictions, anyone? Iraq in an upset, 2-1. Then the Iraqi team is shot dead on its return to Baghdad for failing to slow down appropriately—the team bus was in a celebratory mood, the driver was cheering and not paying attention to the road—at an American checkpoint.

Bism'al Mousa al rahman al raheem
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