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Different motives for Iraq, Argentina
August 23, 2004 15:26 IST
Iraq and Argentina will have different motives but ultimately the same goal in the semi-finals of the men's Olympic soccer tournament on Tuesday.
For brave Iraq, the Athens Games have become a heroic quest and they have overcome extreme odds to reach the last four, bringing a ray of hope to their war-ravaged country.
They will face another stern examination of their resolve when they take on Paraguay in Thessaloniki, northern Greece.
Iraq's 1-0 victory over Australia in the quarter-finals sparked delirious scenes in Baghdad, with people firing guns into the air, honking car horns and waving Iraqi flags.
"We hope we are able to soften the pain for the people of Iraq, who have suffered war and made so many sacrifices," said team coach Adnan Hamd.
"Our families are very sad. At this difficult moment, the least we can do is try to bring them some happiness.
"People are cheering for us in the streets. If we could win the gold medal, it would be a source of enormous happiness for our people."
A weightlifting bronze at the 1960 Rome Games was the only time Iraq have previously troubled the Olympic engravers but they are now one win away from a historic second medal.
Paraguay survived a late fightback but still looked impressive in their 3-2 victory over South Korea at the weekend.
Argentina are the team to beat, having scored 13 goals and conceded none in four matches at the Athens Olympics, and will be favourites to beat Italy.
The South Americans thrashed Costa Rica 4-0 in the quarter-finals, Boca Juniors playmaker Carlos Tevez netting a brilliant hat-trick to take his tally to six.
Argentina have not won an Olympic gold medal in any sport since the 1952 Helsinki Games. Their footballers are determined to end that barren run.
"Since we got to Greece the goal had been to win the gold medal," said Tevez. "For us, gold is the only option."
Italy, coached by former World Cup winner Claudio Gentile, were fortunate to beat Mali 1-0 in their last match, defender Cesare Bovo snatching the winner deep into extra time.
Poor during the group stage, the Italians are likely to struggle against an Argentine side largely unchanged from the one that reached last month's Copa America final.
However, the women's competition provides an appetiser on Monday as the United States clash with world champions Germany in a semi-final between the two top teams. Brazil take on Sweden in the other game.
Mia Hamm, widely regarded as the best female player in the world, will retire at the end of the Olympic after more than 150 goals in over 260 games for the U.S. team.