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ATHENS 2004

Italy Ends Iraq's Inspiring Soccer Run, Wins Bronze

Somber mood pervades the 1-0 victory, with condolences offered over slain journalist.

August 28, 2004|From Associated Press

THESSALONIKI, Greece — Iraq's surprising Olympic soccer run came up short with a 1-0 loss to Italy in a bronze-medal game that couldn't escape reminders of violence in the war-torn country.

Just before kickoff Friday, the teams exchanged words of condolence for Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni, who was killed by Iraqi militants seeking to force Italy's troops out of Iraq. Italian players also wore black armbands to honor Baldoni.

Alberto Gilardino's goal in the eighth minute helped seal Italy's first soccer medal since it won gold at the 1936 Berlin Games. But with the somber mood surrounding the game, and just 5,000 fans in 23,000-seat Kaftanzoglio Stadium, even the winning Italians didn't feel like celebrating.

"It was not a very good game," Italy Coach Claudio Gentile said. "We wanted to show our feeling toward the family Baldoni, but we are not now even in the mood to enjoy our victory."

Iraqi Coach Adnan Hamad said his players also felt flat and sent their condolences to "our brothers and friends from Italy."

The loss meant the Iraqis go home with nothing after seeking to win the nation's first medal of any kind since 1960. Still, Hamad's players, who were unable to play any qualifying games in Baghdad because no other teams would travel there, made many friends along the way.

"To reach the semifinal is a big achievement for our team under our circumstances," Hamad said. "But we wanted to win the game and to have a bronze medal to bring happiness to our people."

Argentina and Paraguay meet in today's final.

The dour mood of the players was reflected in a game in which both teams failed to generate much offense.

The lone score was set up by Italian captain Andrea Pirlo, who ran down the left side and floated a cross from almost level with the goal line. Gilardino soared above the defense and headed the ball into the net.

The Iraqis failed to convert on several scoring chances, including one shot by Razzaq Farhan just before halftime that goalkeeper Ivan Pelizzoli pushed around the post.

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