Statement of Intent

I love football, but want to be entertained. The desire to win at all costs appals me, and the compulsion to prioritise not losing is almost as unappealing. If relegation is not an issue I'm happy to see the teams I support lose an entertaining match provided I know they've tried. Those expecting their team to win every match are deluded. The purpose of this blog is to provide reports on entertaining matches that I reckon it's worth your while watching. This is a prejudice free zone. Suggestions always welcome, particularly for non-European matches, and please let me know if any footage disappears. I'll read any comments, but life is too short to spend a lot of time discussing them. There's football to watch, after all. In case you're as dim as the fuckwit that contacted me this week, I don't own the copyright for any of the footage embedded in this blog any more than I own the air that we breathe, also widely available. Cheers. Frank Plowright

Monday, 25 April 2011

Jordan 4 (1) Iraq 4 (0)

August 31st 1999 – Pan Arab Games Final

Jordan: Mohamed Abou Dawood, Adnan Awad, Amjad Al-Taher, Haytham Al-Shboul, Oussama Talal, Hassouna Al-Sheikh, Jamal Abou Abed (Ra'afat Ali 46, Sufian Abdullah 101), Abdullah Abou-Zama'a, Faysal Ibrahim (Bashar Bani Yassin 63), Badran Al-Shaqran, Ghanem Hamarsheh

Scorers: Abou-Zama'a 30 pen, Al Shaqran 51, 70, Shnishel 65 o.g. Manager: unknown

Iraq: Hashim Khamis, Essam Hamad (Haidar Mahmoud 53), Radhi Shnishel, Ahmad Khadim, Yasser Abdul-Latif (Abbas Rahim Zair 30), Khalid Mohamad Sabbar, Abdul-Wahab Abu Al-Hail, Habib Jafar (Riyadh Mizher 93), Hisham Mohammed, Hussam Fawzi, Razzaq Farhan

Scorers: Fawzi 73, 76 pen, Mahmoud 78, Fahran 87 Manager: Najih Houmoud

Referee: Gamal Al-Ghandour (Egypt)
Why you should watch this match: Astounding comeback and heartbreaking defeat with tragic consequences

Hand on heart here, I'm not an expert on Arabic football. To be honest, even a passing knowledge eludes me. On the other hand an international cup final with that score where one team came back from 4-0 down after 70 minutes has got to be worth anyone's time. Until online translation can make a better fist of Arabic, however, much of the following may be considered suspect. The spellings of names are a matter of interpretation based on how they sound in English, so Jafar is also sometimes spelled Jafer or Jaafer.

The Pan-Arab games are a sort of Olympics confined to the Arab area, with one notable nation from the region excluded. Planned to occur every four years, regional conflict and financial instability have resulted in a more erratic schedule. For instance, the 1999 games occurred just two years after the previous tournament, but the next weren't held until 2004.
For some reason, while the more powerful football nations in the region like Egypt, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia participate in the games as a whole, they body-swerved the football in 1999.

Jordan played host in 1999, and a complex pre-knockout stage involved two group rounds before the semi-final in which Jordan beat Palestine, setting up a meeting with Iraq, conquerors of Libya. In the group stage preceding the semis Jordan had beaten Iraq 2-1, with an equaliser after 87 minutes and a last-minute winner. Seven Iraq players had scored on the way to the final, including a penalty converted by Hussam Fawzi. I'll get to the significance of that, but it's relevant that this was the era of Iraqi football notoriously overseen by Uday Hussein, when players faced jail terms, floggings and torture for below-par performances.

The Jordanian who earns the first half penalty is a sight to behold. Running with the ball into the area he received a slight tap on the ankle. It's a penalty, but the Jordanian appears shot from the grassy knoll. There are a couple of theatrical rolls and he lies still while only the keeper avoids crowding around him. To be fair, it's better than them all rushing towards the perpetrator. A minute later as the penalty is taken, he's off the pitch having been taken away on a stretcher by four men in white coats. Go on, take a look:




As might be expected from the goals Jordan dominated the early period of the second half. Badran Al-Shaqran diverts a shot from the edge of the penalty area into the net, and when Radhi Shnishel lifts a foot to intercept a free kick into the area it spins up on contact into the goal. At this point, the entire Jordanian team head over to the touchline in front of the royal box, and get down on their knees to bow towards King Abdullah, wearing a national team shirt himself.

The final Jordanian goal is the pick of the bunch. Bashar Bani Yassin ran down the left wing pretty well unchallenged to cross into the area where Al-Shaqran connected with a fantastic diving header leaving Hashim Khamis no chance. With the Jordanians bowing to King Abdullah again, you wonder what odds a bookie would have given on level scores twenty minutes later.

Fawzi started the comeback, finally connecting with a ball Jordan failed to clear, and was pulled down for a penalty he duly converted. Two minutes later it was 4-3 when an unmarked Haidar Mahmoud headed home a free kick. It was a finger nail biting nine minutes before Iraq equalised. There was some nice passing around the Iraq team before a cross into the box was nodded down by Mahmoud for Razzaq Farhan to score. Iraq pressed, but there was no winning goal in ninety minutes, nor in 120. 
 
At this point we should step back. Liverpool's 2005 Champions League victory is cited as miraculous, yet they were only three goals down, and completed their draw after an hour. Iraq waited until the 70th minute before pulling back four goals in 17 minutes, an unheard of comeback earning the lottery of penalties. Here's the horror: motivational techniques applied by Uday Hussein included a spell in jail with attendant beatings for missing a penalty. It's said that during regular games only three players would take them, fearing the consequences should they not score. Rahdi Shnishel who stepped up for the first spot kick, which was nearly saved. Abou-Zama'a scored his second penalty of the night, then pity Fawzi, Riyadh Mizher and Abbas Rahim.

The good fortune that enabled Iraq's comeback deserted them as three consecutive penalties hit the posts. At the time Iraq's horrible secrets hadn't been revealed, but with that knowledge the reaction of the players, although no different from highly paid superstars on doing the same, has a ghastly poignancy. It's exacerbated by the natural delight of the Jordanian crowd as they sense impending triumph, unaware of the consequences for their opposition. Here's the rest:
 

While not specifically in connection with this match, newspaper reports from 2002 onward reveal several of the Iraqi players in this team were jailed and beaten. Whipping their feet was a frequent torture, and Asian Cup defeat in 2000 is a match cited as having horrifying consequences. Surely no Iraqi footballer mourned on hearing of Hussein's death in 2003.

Gamal Al-Ghandour was the referee whose blatant bias ensured hosts South Korea beat Spain in the 2002 World Cup quarter-final. He first threatened legal action against those defaming his character, but eventually retired before his career could be dissected in court.

Man of the Match: Shnishel. What this man must have gone through. He'd scored an own goal in a final, then played for 25 minutes wondering about what might happen to him when he returned home. Maybe he believed torture inevitable, so stepped up to take the first penalty in the shootout. In recent memory, has there been a braver player?


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