Iraq hero Mahmoud dreaming of Asian Cup repeat

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Peter Hutchison
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Canberra (AFP) - Iraq hero Younis Mahmoud said he's dreaming of an incredible repeat Asian Cup win after taking centre-stage once again as they reached the semi-finals in dramatic fashion.

The veteran, an icon for his winner in the 2007 final, was on target against arch-rivals Iran before starring in the penalty shoot-out with an audacious spot-kick.

Mahmoud, 31, made light of a cauldron atmosphere in Canberra to chip a "panenka" penalty past Iranian keeper Alireza Haghighi as Iraq snatched the shoot-out 7-6.

"I did it because I wanted to send a message to my players not to worry, look how easy it is to score," said Mahmoud, who scored Iraq's second as it finished 3-3 after extra time.

"I think it worked because afterwards everybody hit their penalties hard and strong and scored," he added.

Friday's upset win over the three-time champions puts Iraq into a semi-final against South Korea and tantalisingly close to a second fairytale triumph in eight years.

Celebratory gunfire erupted in the Iraqi capital Baghdad and traffic jams jammed the roads as thousands of young men took to the streets, chanting and waving the national flag.

Few would have predicted Iraq's progress in the face of incredible odds, and not just the difficulties of the deadly Islamic State insurgency.

Iraq's coach at the Asian Cup is Radhi Shenaishil, on temporary loan from Qatar Sports Club after Hakim Shakir was axed just weeks before the tournament.

And Mahmoud has been without a club for the past year following his departure from Saudi Arabia's Al Ahli.

Questions were asked about Mahmoud's fitness given his lack of game-time in 2014 but the number 10 has bagged two goals along with his penalty kick.

"People had a lot of doubts about him but I don't search on social media and look for these things," said Shenaishil. "Today he played four halves, he was amazing and scored two goals."

"We have a young squad and we need a leader. He's a star for his country and I want to thank him for his performance," the coach added.

Violence plaguing swathes of the country has made training and organising friendlies difficult, but Shenaishil has moulded a young team full of spirit and fight.

"There is nothing that we can do that would be enough for our country," said the coach.

"But if you look at Iraq's history, violence has been going on for years, it's normal. There is nothing new about this situation, we are used to it as a team."

Mahmoud admitted his thoughts keep returning to 2007, when Iraq beat Saudi Arabia 1-0 in the final in Jakarta, as he faces up to Monday's semi-final with the Taeguk Warriors.

"South Korea are a very, very strong team," he said. "But my memory keeps going back to 2007, I can't stop thinking about it. I hope it happens again."