Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

HERAKLIO, Greece – Back to the net and surrounded by five Australians, Emad Mohammed watched the pass of his dreams float his way.

Mohammed bicycle kicked the ball into Australia's goal, winning the game and perpetuating the dreams of a nation in need of them.

The Iraqi team, which made the entire world happy just by being here, will play for an Olympic medal in men's soccer.

Their 1-0 victory over Australia Saturday here on the island of Crete propels the team into the semifinals and keeps alive one the most improbable, important and immensely satisfying sports stories of all time.

"God," said Iraqi goalkeeper Sabri Nour, "gave us happiness tonight."

The magical team from the war-torn country so in need of happiness and hope is two victories from the greatness of Olympic gold. Tuesday they meet the winner of Paraguay-Korea in the semifinals in the Northern city of Thessaloniki.

Win, and they'll have a chance at hearing their anthem played while gold medals are draped around their necks at Olympic Stadium in Athens next Saturday.

"If hopefully they get their gold medal I believe [there will be a] ceasefire not for one day, but for a week," said Ahmed Al Samarri, the head of Iraq's Olympic Committee.

"And hopefully [the rebels] will lay down their arms and just shoot for celebration."

Yes, those are the stakes.

For all the good of the new Iraq, the nation is fractured. Violence is a daily reality. There are insurgent uprisings against the fragile U.S.-backed new Iraq government.

But each Iraqi soccer game is cause for calm and quiet, as people of all creeds, cultures and political beliefs gather around televisions and watch. After each victory there have been impromptu parties in the streets, joy among the people, gunfire into the air for jubilation not ill intent.

"We have worked very hard to bring happiness to the Iraqi people," said coach Adnan Hamad. "The situation of the conquering makes [for] very difficult conditions back in Iraq.

"In case we do win the gold, we will be very happy for our people. We have worked very hard to bring happiness to the Iraqi people."

The players, a collection of Kurds, Shiite and Sunni Muslims from all corners of the diverse country, most in their mid-20's, would prefer to be like every other athlete at the Olympics.

Namely just: athletes.

"I am a sportsman, not a politician," said forward Farhan Razzaq.

It's not like we ask Michael Phelps or Gail Devers what they think of the war.

But Iraq is not in such a simple state right now, and the mood of the homeland is evident in each step this team takes. This is a young team that is overachieving – pushed, it seems, by the passion of their nation.

Never before has Iraq reached the Final Four of the Olympics or any major international tournament. The country has won just one Olympic medal, a bronze in weightlifting in 1960. Under Saddam Hussein athletes were routinely imprisoned and tortured for poor play.

The idea of the Iraqi flag being raised in Athens as the national anthem bellows through the city and the world watches on is breathtaking.

"As we are always saying, the sport players are a good group to bring the unity," Al Samarri said.

While the players are skilled, poised and together, they arrived here with little fanfare. None play in a major professional soccer league. They are paid just $200 a month. After qualifying for the Olympics last spring, the daily difficulties of life in Baghdad – closed roads, security check points – limited the team to just two practices.

Their home stadium was damaged during the war, not that it mattered. No one will play there due to safety concerns.

But now they compete as the world's team.

By the emotional end of Saturday's game here in hot, humid Crete, many players were too exhausted to celebrate, preferring to just collapse on the midfield grass.

As they lay, the chants of "Iraq, Iraq, Iraq," washed over them from their delirious fans, who also had baked in the sun but couldn't stop the party, couldn't stop the momentum.

On to the semis goes Iraq. On to the medal round.

On and on and on this impossible dream goes.

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