Patriot games

An Iraqi soccer fan celebrates on Sussex Dr. and in the Byward Market yesterday after Iraq won the...

An Iraqi soccer fan celebrates on Sussex Dr. and in the Byward Market yesterday after Iraq won the Asian Cup. (A.D.Wilson/Sun)

LAURA CZEKAJ -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:15 AM ET

An ocean away from the civil strife tearing at their homeland, members of Ottawa's Iraqi community found hope for their native country in a momentous soccer win by the Iraq national team.

Iraq's 1-0 upset victory over Saudi Arabia in the Asian Cup final yesterday was a rare moment of good news for a country that is better known abroad for its ongoing war, suicide bombers and mounting death tolls.

COMMON GOAL

Former Iraq soccer player Omar Salin was watching the game broadcast via satellite with his 16-year-old son Armand early yesterday morning in their Ottawa home.

It was an opportunity to watch Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni players band together with a common goal to beat a rival team that had been considered a safe bet for the win.

"We want to send a tough message to the terrorists: There is no way to kill our joys, our fun and our unity of Iraqis," said Salin.

It was a lesson in patriotism Salin was proud to share with his soccer-playing son, whose mother is Canadian.

"He was amazed by the players and the way they played," said Salin.

In the 20 years since he came to Canada, Salin hasn't watched Iraqi teams because he disapproved of the conditions imposed on players under the late Saddam Hussein's regime.

"This was the first time in 20 years I sat down and watched an Iraq team," he said.

"I was so nervous and so proud too."

Phone calls were coming fast and furious following the win, which sent members of the local Iraqi community out into the streets waving flags from car windows and honking horns.

"This is the first time in Iraq's history to win the Asia Cup," said Salin.

'MORE FREEDOM'

Salin coaches the Kanata U-16 boys soccer team, which his son plays on, and the women's Lynwood Synergy Soccer team. He formerly played with a soccer club in northern Iraq.

The team's win marks a new era in the mobility of Iraq's athletes, who were forbidden from playing internationally when Saddam was in power.

"On one side, you see all the bombs and killing, but on the sports side, Iraqis have more freedom now," said Salin.


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