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Thu 26 Jul 2007 05:48 PM

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Iraq, Saudi reach Asian Cup final

The two Middle East nations go head-to-head this Sunday on Asian football's greatest stage.

Iraq and Saudi Arabia will go head-to-head in the Asian Cup final on Sunday after the pair saw off two of Asia’s footballing giants in the semi-finals this week.

Iraq will take part in its first Asian Cup final following its 4-3 defeat of South Korea on Wednesday in a thrilling penalty shootout after both sides failed to break the deadlock over 120 scoreless minutes.

During the shootout, Iraq goalkeeper Noor Sabri pushed Yeom Ki-hun's penalty round the post with the score tied at 3-3, and then Ahmed Menajed put Iraq into the lead with the next spot kick. Kim Jung-woo needed to score the next penalty to keep South Korea in the game, but hit the post to give Iraq the win.

Saudi Arabia, which has won the competition three times, put out favourites and two-time defending champion Japan 3-2 on Wednesday in a scintillating game in which Japan came back twice before finally succumbing to the Saudi offence.

Yasser Qahtani gave put Saudi Arabia up 1-0 after 35 minutes with a powerful freekick, only to have Japanese defender Yuji Nakazawa equalise just two minutes later from a corner.

Saudi retook the lead just minutes into the second half with a Malek Alhawsawi header, and Japan answered back in the 53rd minute with an incredible overhead kick from midfielder Yuki Abe.

However, slack defending cost Japan dear in the 57th minute when Alhawsawi slotted home his second and Saudi Arabia’s third to seal the victory and put the Kingdom into its sixth final.

A lot will be riding on the game when Iraq and Saudi Arabia will meet in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Sunday.

Victory, especially for Iraq, would raise the profile of football in both countries and generate significant revenues.

The winner will also join the US, Brazil, Italy, host South Africa, as well as the champions of Africa, Oceania and Europe in the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup, another opportunity for the winner to boost its global profile.

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