Published on July 15, 2007
Pre-tournament favourites Australia faltered under sultry conditions, succumbing to an upset 3-1 defeat at the hands of Iraq in their Asian Cup Group A encounter at Rajamangala National Stadium yesterday.
The Australians, widely regarded as title contenders, given such top quality players as Newcastle's new striker Mark Viduka in its fold, have struggled under the tropical temperatures.
Graham Arnold's side narrowly escaped embarrassment on Sunday, when unfancied Oman threatened to pull off what could have been the biggest upset of the tournament only for Everton star Tim Cahill to salvage Australia with a late dramatic equaliser in the 1-1 draw.
Such a drama did not happen yesterday, as the humid conditions took their toll on the weary Australians and Arnold's men could not help but accept their fate, which left their campaign hanging by a thread.
Arnold saw his effort to help his players acclimatise to the surroundings by training during the hottest part of the day come to no avail as underdogs Iraq ran their illustrious opponents ragged for a large part of the game before claiming what appeared a fair result to them.
Although Viduka cancelled out Nashat Akram's goal with an equaliser just after the interval, Iraq, who looked lively throughout the match, stunned the Australians with goals from Hawar Mohammed and Karrar Jassim to round off their remarkable day.
The result left the Australians teetering on the brink of elimination as they now must claim three points from the match against hosts Thailand to stand any chance of qualification for the knock-out stage.
To add insult to injury, captain Lucas Neil will miss the crucial match against Thailand after the West Ham defender was sent off late in the match.
Arnold blamed defensive errors for the defeat.
"Very disappointing. We fought hard to get back 1-1. Iraq started feeling tired. Then there were two mistakes. I said before the game they were a good side. We were definitely on top at 1-1, but after 2-1 it was hard to come back again.
"Very disappointed, the time for competition was not favourable for us. We had limited time. Most European-based players are on holiday, not quite ready for competition. Some players have attitudes. Some don't want to be here. And we have to come to this extreme condition, the humidity problem.
"We still have one opportunity, to beat Thailand. We will do our best. We still have players on the bench who desperately want to play."
Jorvan Vieira was understandably delighted after his team claimed such big scalps.
"I said before that we were ready for the match but people didn't believe me. The congratulations should go to my players and staff, not only to me. It's not magic.
"We wanted to win, never wanted to lose. I know my players' potential, what they can do. We've been confident since we arrived here.
"I'm not making any comments about my opponents. My side has worked hard. After 1-1, anything could happen. Australia seemed a bit tired, easier for us to penetrate."
He said people in Iraq must be shooting to celebrate the victory, because every time the team wins people shoot into the air.