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Drama in Southeast Asia: Upsets, Numbers, and Notable Firsts at the 2007 Asian Cup

Antonio Martinez graduated from Montclair State University with a BA in History and a double minor in Journalism and Russian Area Sudies.

Iraq's Younis Mahmoud (10) hoists the trophy along with teammates and other dignitaries after Iraq won the 2007 Asian Cup in Jakarta, Indonesia

Iraq's Younis Mahmoud (10) hoists the trophy along with teammates and other dignitaries after Iraq won the 2007 Asian Cup in Jakarta, Indonesia

The 2007 Asian Cup witnessed stories unfold across Southeast Asia. It marked the first time Asia’s premier tournament occurred in an odd-numbered year to avoid clashing with other prestigious competitions. An event that showcased 16 teams included Asia’s heavyweights and the tournament’s sole newcomer, Australia. The island nation participated in the premier major tournament as an Asian representative after decades as a member of Oceania.

Throughout July 2007, co-hosts played with pride, with Vietnam finishing up as quarterfinalists in their first tournament as a unified nation. They joined alongside other heavyweights, including Japan, South Korea, and IR Iran. After a disappointing showing three years ago, Saudi Arabia returned to yet another continental final; simultaneously, China and Bahrain, semifinalists from the 2004 edition, suffered elimination from the group stage.

In the end, Iraq stood as continental kings. A tournament that began with Iraq playing co-host Thailand ended with Iraq upsetting Saudi Arabia to win the 2007 Asian Cup. Iraq’s journey represented a culmination of formidable work that dated back to its surprise fourth-place finish in the 2004 Summer Olympics.

Ismail Abdul-Latif (11) and Faouzi Mubarak Aaish (25) celebrate with personnel after Abdul-Latif scored the winning goal to give Bahrain a shocking 2-1 victory over South Korea

Ismail Abdul-Latif (11) and Faouzi Mubarak Aaish (25) celebrate with personnel after Abdul-Latif scored the winning goal to give Bahrain a shocking 2-1 victory over South Korea

From Final Four to First Eight Out

Runners-up from 2004, China looked to improve during its group stage campaign in Malaysia. Hang Peng and Wang Dong each scored twice in their opening match against Malaysia in a comfortable China’s 5-1. Having represented China at the 2002 World Cup, Shao Jiayi provided China a dream start when he scored the game’s opening goal against IR Iran. With Mao Jianqing having doubled China’s lead, China looked to have moved one step closer to the quarterfinals.

However, China allowed IR Iran to score right before halftime, and the momentum shifted then. Even with China having allowed IR Iran to level the match at 2-2, China still could reach the knockout stage. A draw or a win ahead of its final group stage match against Uzbekistan in Shah Alam would send China into the quarterfinals. However, a miserable last 20 minutes saw China suffer its earliest elimination since 1980.

Like China three years ago, Bahrain surprised people with its fourth-place finish in China. But Bahrain began the tournament with a shocking loss against the co-host Indonesia. Bahrain hoped for déjà vu in its second group stage game against South Korea. Bahrain’s maiden ever Asian Cup victory came against South Korea - that match, also contested in Jakarta, Indonesia, having occurred on June 17, 1988.

Nineteen years on and in Jakarta, both nations met again in the tournament. South Korea scored in the fourth minute before Bahrain tied the match before the drama unfolded late. Ismael Abdul-Latif scored his initial goal for Bahrain in the 85th minute. Three years after its victory in the Asian Cup, Bahrain seemed to have a chance at yet another knockout berth. It would not be as Saudi Arabia sent Bahrain out of the tournament in the group stage finale with a 4-0 result.

A naturalized citizen from Uruguay, Sebastian Soria is seen here celebrating after scoring the tying goal agaisnt Vietnam in Hanoi.

A naturalized citizen from Uruguay, Sebastian Soria is seen here celebrating after scoring the tying goal agaisnt Vietnam in Hanoi.

Tough Breaks for a West Asian Trio

Along with Bahrain, three West Asian nations exited early, including Oman, making its second straight appearance after its debut in China at the 2004 Asian Cup. Six months earlier, Badar Al-Maimani scored the goal to send Oman to the 2007 Gulf Cup Final at Bahrain’s expense. Al-Maimani scored in Oman’s opening game against Australia in the 32nd minute. Oman defended the 1-0 lead and stood on course for a landmark victory, but Australia tied the match with a stoppage-time goal. Oman never recovered as it recorded two draws in the group stage. Al-Maimani scored Oman’s lone goal in the tournament.

As for Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, both nations hoped to reach the quarterfinals, primarily given that defending champions Japan were in their group and co-host Vietnam. Qatar last won an Asian Cup match on Dec. 12, 1988, as hosts; however, Qatar last earned an Asian Cup victory outside Qatar on Dec. 10, 1984.

Qatar acquired a naturalized player from Uruguay in Sebastian Soria in its squad. Soria scored his initial goals for Qatar, with each goal coming at pivotal moments. Soria’s first two goals salvaged 1-1 draws against Japan and Vietnam, while his third goal put Qatar up against the United Arab Emirates on a penalty kick in Ho Chi Minh City. Qatar looked to qualify for the quarterfinals, only for the United Arab Emirates to derail Qatar from the tournament. Qatar’s elimination arrived courtesy of a stoppage-time goal from Faisal Khalil. For the United Arab Emirates, the 2-1 victory became the nation’s first tournament win away from home since Nov. 3, 1992; it provided consolation for a team expected to achieve better given their manager.

In 2002, he guided Senegal to a quarterfinal appearance at the FIFA World Cup. Bruno Metsu guided the United Arab Emirates to its first Gulf Cup title five years later. The United Arab Emirates enjoyed decent results ahead of the tournament, including a 2-0 victory over Saudi Arabia in Singapore. However, the United Arab Emirates began with a stunning result - a 2-0 loss to co-host Vietnam. Then, despite a consolation goal from Saeed Al-Kass, the United Arab Emirates suffered a second straight loss. Its 3-1 loss to Japan meant the United Arab Emirates was the first team eliminated.

Fans at Gelora Bung Karno Stadium watch as Indonesia hosts South Korea during a 2007 Asian Cup group stage match.

Fans at Gelora Bung Karno Stadium watch as Indonesia hosts South Korea during a 2007 Asian Cup group stage match.

Mixed Results for the Co-Hosts

The four co-hosting Southeast Asian nations were also the tournament’s four lowest-ranked nations among the 16 participants in 2007: Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia. The goal for each country was merely for pride; that was substantially true for Thailand, who kicked off the tournament on July 7 against Iraq. Ranked 122nd ahead of the tournament, Thailand received an early present, with Sumee Suksomkit scoring the competition’s initial goal on the ensuing penalty kick as the match finished 1-1.

But six days later, Thailand made history against Oman; two goals from Pipat Thonkaya saw Thailand achieve its first regulation victory of the tournament against Oman and its first victory against the same opponent in nearly six years. With four points after two games, Thailand’ was in striking distance of a quarterfinal appearance. Although it trailed 1-0 with 80 minutes elapsed against Australia, Thailand unraveled with three late goals to crash out.

Playing in its fourth straight tournament appearance, Indonesia won its opening match for the second successive tournament. A 2-1 victory against Bahrain meant Indonesia, ranked 143rd ahead of this tournament, avenged its elimination from the 2004 Asian Cup. Budi Sudarsono and Bambang Pamungkas scored the goals to secure Indonesia’s first victory over Bahrain since Aug. 27, 1980. Indonesia seemed confident to make noise, but losses to Saudi Arabia and South Korea confirmed Indonesia’s elimination. Indonesia achieved history in both losses as attendance in Jakarta reached 88000 people, the most massive crowds at the tournament in 31 years.

Ranked 149th before the 2007 Asian Cup, Malaysia last won on Sept. 20, 1980. What happened in 2007 saw Malaysia lose all three group stage matches. In an event where Malaysia allowed 12 goals in the three games, one bright spot occurred in Indra Putra Mahayuddin. In nearly a year, he had not scored for Malaysia, but Indra Putra scored as his country trailed China 4-0 to China in its opening match.

For the 142nd ranked Vietnam, the nation played its first tournament as a unified nation; seven months earlier, Vietnam won two friendlies to gain confidence, even if both matches occurred at Hanoi’s My Ðinh National Stadium. It was this venue where Vietnam played its three group stage games. Vietnam opened its tournament hanging on against the United Arab Emirates for over an hour. Eventually, Vietnam achieved the breakthrough when defender Huỳnh Quang Thanh scored his first-ever goal for Vietnam. In the 73rd minute, Lê Công Vinh added a second goal to secure a famous 2-0 victory.

Vietnam opened the scoring in all three games in the group stage. Phan Thanh Bình scored against Qatar in a vital 1-1 draw, while Vietnam benefited from Japan’s Keita Suzuki scoring an own goal ahead after only eight minutes. Though the 4-1 defeat ended its group play, Vietnam reached the quarterfinals, where it traveled to Bangkok. After two minutes, Vietnam fell behind early to Iraq and, despite playing with heads aloft, exited the tournament after a 2-0 loss.

Upset at Hanoi

It's Germany All Over Again

Penalty Heartbreak and Tough Tasks

Along with Vietnam were seven other quarterfinalists - including Australia, who survived barely in its first Asian Cup. He scored Australia’s initial World Cup goal in 2006 in Kaiserslautern, Germany. Tim Cahill scored Australia’s maiden Asian Cup goal in Bangkok - a stoppage-time goal that helped Australia salvage a 1-1 draw with Oman. Australia’s campaign got worse after a 3-1 loss against Iraq and was in danger of an early elimination. Against Thailand, Australia got a breakthrough when it mattered the most. Havings once scored a late own goal against Paraguay last October; Michael Beauchamp opened the scoring in the 21st minute with his first goal for Australia.

Australia still led 1-0 until two goals by Mark Viduka in four minutes and a 90th-minute goal by Harry Kewell sent Australia into the quarterfinals, where a new rival awaited in Japan. A goalscorer when the nations met at the World Cup in 2006; John Aloisi scored once again in the 70th minute, only for Japan to tie after two minutes. Australia could not win against Japan, and a penalty shootout ensued. For Australia, misses from Kewell and Lucas Neill on its first two attempts proved costly as Japan advanced 4-3 in the shootout, handing Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer his first every penalty shootout defeat.

In addition to Australia, IR Iran looked to win the tournament for the first time since 1976 and lost in a penalty shootout. IR Iran topped its group stage ahead of Uzbekistan. However, it trailed early against Uzbekistan in its first match until Jalal Hosseini and Javad Kazemian saw IR Iran win 2-1. A 2-2 draw with China saw IR Iran trail 2-0 at one point until goals from Ferydoon Zandi and Javad Nekounam helped IR Iran overcome the deficit. Along with Andranik Teymourian, Nekounam scored against Malaysia to give IR Iran a 2-0 victory and the group.

IR Iran’s quarterfinal would be a revival of one of Asia’s best rivalry with South Korea. IR Iran and South Korea were meeting at the Asian Cup quarterfinals for a fourth successive tournament. However, for the first time in 30 years, the two teams played to a scoreless draw. With IR Iran’s captain Mehdi Mahdavikia missing on his nation’s second attempt, South Korea took advantage and advanced to the semifinals with a 4-2 decision.

Finishing second behind IR Iran in its group, Uzbekistan had reached its highest ranking at 45th, with a notable result being a 2-0 victory over Iraq before the tournament. Despite losing its opening match, Uzbekistan recovered to win two games thanks to the offense. Uzbekistan scored only five goals in the 2004 Asian Cup; it would score five against Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur’s Bukit Jalil Stadium. Maksim Shatskikh opened and closed the scoring in that match.

Along with Timur Kapadze, both Shatskikh and Alexander Geynrikh helped Uzbekistan achieve victories over Malaysia and China to reach the quarterfinals with a meeting against Saudi Arabia, a rematch of a 2004 group stage match that Uzbekistan won. Uzbekistan hoped for deja vu from three years earlier, but Saudi Arabia eliminated Uzbekistan with a 2-1 result.

Uzbekistan's Five Goal Performance

Two East Asian Nations and One Numerical Anomaly

The stinging criticism from the match against Qatar motivated Japan to top its group with victories over the United Arab Emirates and Vietnam. However, those became the lone victories Japan had in the tournament in regulation. Naohiro Takahara tallied his fourth goal in the quarterfinal against Australia to tie the match. While Takahara missed his attempt during the shootout, goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi helped Japan with two saves against Australia in the quarterfinals.

Heavyweights in Asia, Japan faced Saudi Arabia met twice during qualifying, each winning at home. The semifinal proved no difference as Japan sought to continue having success against Saudi Arabia, having defeated the west Asian nation during the 1992 and 2000 editions. Despite coming back twice to tie the match, Japan lost 3-2 and had to play a third-place game against South Korea. Similar to Japan’s quarterfinal, a penalty shootout determined the winner. Woefully, Japan was on the wrong side this time, with Naotake Hanyu missing his attempt as Japan lost 6-5 in the shootout to South Korea.

For South Korea, the third-place finish proved the culmination of an omen. The number three became South Korea’s theme during the tournament. South Korea sought to win its third Asian Cup after winning the first two editions in 1956 and 1960. South Korea had also finished as runners-up on three previous occasions. When it won the shootout against Japan, South Korea finished third in the tournament for the third time.

South Korea scored only three goals throughout the tournament, and three players scored one goal in a group stage game: Choi Sungkuk, Kim Doheon, and Kim Jungwoo. Jungwoo scored his first-ever goal for South Korea in its third match of the tournament as that goal sent South Korea to the quarterfinals.

South Korea allowed three goals in the tournament, all having occurred during the group stage. South Korea recorded three straight scoreless draws during the knockout stages, and penalty shootouts decided each match. Lee Chunsoo scored in each shootout. Jungwoo, who scored the winning penalty kick against IR Iran, missed South Korea’s game-tying attempt against Iraq.

Taisir Al-Jassim of Saudi Arabia celebrates after scoring against Bahrain in a group stage match in Palembang, Indonesia. Saudi Arabia won 4-0 to eliminate its opponents from the tournament.

Taisir Al-Jassim of Saudi Arabia celebrates after scoring against Bahrain in a group stage match in Palembang, Indonesia. Saudi Arabia won 4-0 to eliminate its opponents from the tournament.

Younis Mahmoud (10) celebrates with teammates behind him after scoring against Saudi Arabia to give Iraq its first Asian Cup.

Younis Mahmoud (10) celebrates with teammates behind him after scoring against Saudi Arabia to give Iraq its first Asian Cup.

Two West Asian Nations, One Landmark Victory.

Perhaps no country sought redemption at this tournament more than three-time champions Saudi Arabia. In 2004, Saudi Arabia managed a solitary point against Turkmenistan and had been ranked 81st in the world. Their performances were a far cry for a nation that had reached four straight World Cups to go with five straight Asian Cup finals.

Despite an opening draw against South Korea, Saudi Arabia won its group with victories over Indonesia and Bahrain. Yasser Al-Qahtani finished with four goals in the tournament, but one player scored a pivotal goal to get Saudi Arabia in contention at Jakarta's Gelora Bung Karno Stadium. With the match tied at 1-1 against co-host Indonesia, Saad Al-Harthi scored in the 90th minute, and Saudi Arabia would eventually take control of the group. Against Bahrain, three players score their first-ever goals for their countries. Ahmed Al-Mousa and Abdulrahman Al-Qahtani scored in the first half before two goals from Taisir Al-Jassim gave Saudi Arabia an emphatic 4-0 victory.

Saudi Arabia avenged its group stage loss to Uzbekistan in the quarterfinals from 2004. Saudi Arabia began with a third-minute goal from Al-Qahtani, and a second goal from Ahmed Al-Mousa provided a cushion. Although Pavel Solomin scored for Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia hung on to meet Japan in Hanoi. It was two goals from Malek Ali Mouath that broke ties on two separate occasions; the second goal gave Saudi Arabia a 3-2 lead, 10 minutes after his first goal broke a 1-1 early in the second half, and the eventual victory.

A fourth Asian Cup was what Saudi Arabia sought. In contrast, Iraq was more than merely playing for a maiden trophy, especially following its semifinal victory against South Korea, as Iraq grappled in horror as people were dying. Iraq's road to this final began in Athens, but one could argue its route started in Chengdu on July 26, 2004, the day Younis Mahmoud's goal consigned Saudi Arabia to an early exit. In August 2004, Mahmoud was on Iraq's Olympic squad as the nation achieved a fourth-place finish. That journey included a 4-2 upset of Portugal and a 1-0 upset of Australia in Iraq's first quarterfinal berth in 24 years. Oddly enough, Iraq's qualifying campaign began inauspiciously with a 2-0 loss in Singapore. Iraq still recovered to finish ahead of China in its group, and most of the 2004 squad played in this tournament.

That included Mahmoud, who tied the match against Thailand. Another upset of Australia occurred as Nashat Akram, Hawar Mulla Mohammed, Karrar Jassim each scored in a 3-1 victory. Iraq topped its group with a scoreless draw against Oman. In addition to Mahmoud, Noor Sabri helped prevent opponents from scoring. Iraq allowed only two goals during the tournament,

However, it would be fitting that Mahmoud finished as the tournament's Most Valuable Player. His two goals in the quarterfinal became the difference against Vietnam; however, his fourth goal was the most important for a nation, coming in the 72nd minute as Iraq defied all odds and overcame all obstacles to win the 2007 Asian Cup.

The 2007 Asian Cup had everything people wanted: notable firsts, avenging defeats, new stars emerging, and even fun with the number three. Most importantly, Iraq demonstrated the resilient spirit amidst unimaginable hardship to win this tournament. Iraq proved it does not always take one star to make a country famous.

Archived Copy of the 2007 Asian Cup website

© 2015 Antonio Martinez