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

Updated on August 2, 2019
Antonio Martinez1 profile image

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

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 | Source

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 major tournaments. A tournament that featured 16 teams included some of Asia's heavyweights, as well as the tournament's sole newcomer in Australia. The island nation participated in the premier major tournament as an Asian representative after decades as a member of Oceania.

Throughout July 2017, co-hosts played with pride, with Vietnam finishing up as quarterfinalists in their maiden 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, one nation stood as continental kings. A tournament that began with Iraq playing co-host Thailand ended with Iraq upsetting Saudi Arabia to win 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 | Source

From Final Four to First Eight Out: Three Years Can Make a Difference

Runners-up from 2004, China looked to maintain its improvement during its group stage campaign in Malaysia. Hang Peng and Wang Dong each scored twice in its 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 had a chance to 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 final 20 minutes meant China suffered its quickest elimination since 1980.

Along with China would enter another semifinalist with a rapid exit. Three years ago, Bahrain genuinely surprised many 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 also 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 in the game. 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. | Source

Tough Breaks and Early Elimination

Along with Bahrain, three West Asian nations exited early, including Oman, who was making its second straight appearance after its debut in China at the 2004 Asian Cup. It was six months earlier that 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, only for Australia to tie 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 of the tournament.

As for Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, both nations hoped to reach the quarterfinals as well, primarily given that defending champions Japan were in their group along with 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 who their coach was in the tournament.

Five years ago, he guided Senegal to a quarterfinal appearance at the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Early in 2007, Bruno Metsu guided the United Arab Emirates to its first Gulf Cup title. 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 its tournament with a stunning result - a shocking 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 from the tournament.

Fans at Gelora Bung Karno Stadium watch as Indonesia hosts South Korea in a 2007 group stage match.
Fans at Gelora Bung Karno Stadium watch as Indonesia hosts South Korea in a 2007 group stage match. | Source

The Tournament's Opening Goal

Upset at Hanoi

Mixed Results for the Co-Hosts

The four Southeast Asian nations that hosted the 2007 Asian Cup were also the tournament's four lowest-ranked nations among the 16 participants: Thailand, Vietnam (142nd), Indonesia and Malaysia. The goal for each country was merely for pride; that was substantially legitimate for Thailand, who kicked off the month-long tournament on July 7 against Iraq. Ranked 122nd ahead of the tournament, Thailand received an early present with Sumee Suksomkit scored the competition's initial goal on the ensuing penalty kick, although 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, as well as its first victory against the similar opponent in nearly six years.

Having secured four points in their first two games, Thailand’s hopes of a shock quarterfinal berth seemed possible, albeit against Australia who was in a must-win situation. Although Thailand only trailed 1-0 with 80 minutes elapsed, Thailand unraveled as it allowed three goals to send Thailand crashing out.

As for Indonesia, who was in its fourth straight tournament appearance, it won its initial game 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 looked confident to reach the quarterfinals, but losses to Saudi Arabia and South Korea confirmed ant Indonesia's elimination from the group stage. Up to this time, Indonesia achieved history in both losses as attendance in Jakarta achieved 88,000 people. These matches would be the most attended at an Asian Cup 31 years.

With a ranking of 149th ahead of the 2007 Asian Cup, Malaysia looked to win a game at the Asian Cup match, having last done so on Sept. 20, 1980. Instead, not only did Malaysia the only one of the four co-hosts to not win a game, but Malaysia was the only nation to lose all three group stage matches. In a tournament where Malaysia allowed 12 goals in the three matches, the nation did have one bright spot: Indra Putra Mahayuddin. He had not scored for Malaysia in nearly a year, but Indra Putra scored as his country trailed China 4-0 to China in its opening match.

For Vietnam, the nation would play its first tournament as a unified nation; seven months earlier, Vietnam continued its improvement after suffering its lowest ever ranking at 172nd in December 2006. Two victories over Jamaica (3-0) and Bahrain (5-3) before the tournament helped promote confidence for Vietnam, ranked 142nd ahead of the tournament. Both victories before the tournament came at Hanoi's My Ðinh National Stadium.

It was this similar 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 Huynh Quang Thanh scored his first-ever goal for Vietnam. In the 73rd minute, Le Cong Vinh (who along with Phan Thanh Binh combined for seven goals in a match against Laos earlier in the year) tallied a goal to secure Vietnam's 2-0 victory.

Vietnam opened the scoring in all three games in the group stage. Thanh Binh scored against Qatar in a vital 1-1 draw and Japan's Keita Suzuki scored an own goal to put Vietnam ahead after only eight minutes. Despite losing its final game to Japan, Vietnam, courtesy of Qatar’s loss to the United Arab Emirates, were in the quarterfinals, where Vietnam exited the tournament with head held aloft after a 2-0 loss to Iraq.

It's Germany All Over Again

Uzbekistan's Five Goal Performance

Penalty Heartbreak and Tough Tasks

Along with Vietnam were seven other quarterfinalists - including debutants Australia, who survived barely in its group stage in its first foray in the Asian Cup. He scored Australia's initial World Cup goal in 2006 in Kaiserslautern, Germany. In Bangkok, Tim Cahill scored Australia's maiden Asian Cup goal - 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.
However, against Thailand, Australia got a breakthrough when it mattered the most. He once infamously scored a late own goal after coming on against Paraguay in a match last October; Michael Beauchamp scored his first goal for Australia in the 21st minute. Australia still led by the lone goal, 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. He scored when the teams 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 failed to repeat another scalp against Japan and a penalty shootout ensued. For Australia, misses from Kewell and Lucas Neill on its first two attempts proved costly. The 4-3 loss in the shootout meant that for the first time, Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer lost in a penalty shootout.

Australia was not the only nation eliminated in the quarterfinals via a penalty shootout. IR Iran, looking to win the tournament for the first time in 31 years, topped its group stage ahead of Uzbekistan. Iran did trail early against Uzbekistan before winning 2-1 with goals from Jalal Hosseini and Javad Kazemian. A 2-2 draw with China saw IR Iran trail by two goals; however, 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 as well.

IR Iran's quarterfinal featured an all-too-familiar opponent as one of Asia's best rivalry was revisited with South Korea. Iran and South Korea met in 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; before the tournament, Uzbekistan defeated Iraq 2-0. Although it lost its opening match, Uzbekistan recovered to win the next two games thanks to the offense. Uzbekistan scored only five goals in the 2004 Asian Cup - the same number that Uzbekistan also scored in its match against Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur's Bukit Jalil Stadium. Maksim Shatskikh opened and closing 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 in the tournament, but it would not happen as Saudi Arabia advanced to the semifinals as it handed Uzbekistan a 2-1 to defeat.

Deciding another East-West Asian Showdown

Two East Asian Nations and One Numerical Anomaly

That stinging criticism from the match against Qatar motivated Japan rallied and topped its group with victories over the United Arab Emirates and Vietnam. However, those became the lone victories Japan had in the tournament in regulation.

The scoring star for Japan during the group stage, 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 saved Japan with his two saves to help Japan advance at Australia's expense.

Japan faced Saudi Arabia in a semifinal that saw these two nations meet twice in qualifying, with each winning at home. Japan was looking to maintain its success against Saudi Arabia after defeating them twice in the tournament in 2000 and against in 1992. Despite coming back twice to tie the match, Japan lost 3-2 and had to play a third-place match 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, its third-place finish showed that three was more than an unexpected number in its culture; to some extent, the number three became South Korea's theme during the tournament. South Korea sought to win its third Asian Cup after having won 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, which sent South Korea to the quarterfinals.

South Korea allowed three goals in the tournament, all having occurred during the group stage. During the knockout stage, South Korea also recorded three straight scoreless draws. All three matches were decided via a penalty shootout and Lee Chunsoo scored in each of the three shootouts. It was Jungwoo, who scored the winning penalty kick against IR Iran, missed South Korea's game-tying attempt against Iraq that would see South Korea eventually finish third.

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. | Source
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. | Source

Two West Asian Nations, One Landmark Victory.

Of the 16 nations from the 2007 Asian Cup, perhaps no nation sought redemption more than three-time champions Saudi Arabia. In 2004, Saudi Arabia underwent one of its most unsatisfactory performances, when it managed a solitary point against Turkmenistan. At one point, Saudi Arabia was ranked 81st in the world. A nation that had been to four straight World Cups was not the same as a nation that had reached five straight Asian Cup finals.

Despite opening its group stage with a draw against South Korea, Saudi Arabia rallied to win 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. The goal came in Jakarta's Gelora Bung Karno Stadium. He scored his first-ever goal at this stadium against Sri Lanka in a World Cup qualifier. 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.

In the quarterfinals, Saudi Arabia did avenge its group stage loss to Uzbekistan from 2004. It began that victory quickly win a third-minute goal from Al-Qahtani. A second goal from Ahmed Al-Mousa provided a cushion before a Pavel Solomin goal had Saudi Arabia hang on for the victory. 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 was seeking to win. Its opponent Iraq was more than merely playing for a maiden trophy. The most significant story from the 2007 Asian Cup saw nation strife in war and struggling to achieve an identity. It was a country that despite celebrations in its semifinal victory against South Korea, a nation was still struggling in horror as its people were dying.

Iraq's road to Jakarta relatively began in earnest in Athens; one could even argue its road to Jakarta began in Chengdu on July 26, 2004. That was when Younis Mahmoud's winning goal consigned Saudi Arabia to a rapid exit from the tournament. In August, Mahmoud was on Iraq's Olympic squad as the nation played in its first Olympic tournament since 1988. A stunning 4-2 upset of Portugal paved the way for Iraq's first quarterfinal berth in 24 years. It was there that Iraq upset Australia, en route to finishing fourth in the tournament. However, Iraq's road to reaching this tournament had begun inauspiciously with a loss at Singapore 2-0. 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 the two goals not just during the group stage, but during the tournament, including his efforts against South Korea in the semi-final. 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.

That goal arrived in the 72nd minute against Saudi Arabia in the Asian Cup Final. 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 of a nation amidst unimaginable hardship to win this tournament. Iraq proved it does not always take one star to make a nation famous.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2015 Antonio Martinez


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