Wahl_grant
Views
2984
Comments
3
  • 08:14 AM ET  06.14

JOHANNESBURG -- Sitting in the passenger's seat of my crappy rental car, Bora Milutinovic--legendary vagabond, soccer sorceror and the new coach of the Iraqi national team--tugged at my left arm on Thursday night. The man known around the world simply as Bora wanted me to step on the gas. "If you go a little bit faster, you don't lose the bus," he said. "There! Turn right!"

He had little reason to worry that we'd lose the Iraqi team bus in front of us. Johannesburg traffic is terrible, but Iraq (like every team in the Confederations Cup) has a police escort everywhere it goes, and we never had to stop a single time on the way back to eating dinner at the Iraqi team hotel.

The host South Africans may not be so hospitable today, when Bora and Iraq take on Bafana Bafana in the opening match of the Confed Cup (10 a.m. ET, ESPN2). Featuring Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds working together, Iraqi soccer has been an inspirational story twice in the past five years: in 2004, when the Iraqis made a surprise run to the Olympic semifinals, and in 2007, when the senior team won the Asian championship (the title that punched Iraq's ticket for the Confed Cup).

But since then, Iraqi soccer has tumbled into the abyss, failing even to reach the final round of qualifying for World Cup 2010 and being humbled by Qatar and Bahrain in the Gulf States Cup earlier this year. Enter Bora, soccer's traveling Mr. Fix-It, one of only two men (along with Carlos Alberto Parreira) to coach five teams in the World Cup (Mexico 1986, Costa Rica 1990, USA 1994, Nigeria 1998, China 2002). All of Bora's teams except for China have survived the group stage.

Bora's contract with Iraq runs only until the end of this tournament, but if he can pull another rabbit out of his hat starting today, chances are he'll land a gig with a team for South Africa 2010.

Does Bora think Iraq has what it takes to pull off the upset of the host Bafana Bafana today? "Why not?" he told me the other night. "No, really. I believe!"

Do you agree with him? Can Iraq win this game and add to the Bora legend? Check back in later today for reaction to Iraq-South Africa and Spain-New Zealand (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

Grant Wahl's new book, The Beckham Experiment, comes out on July 14. You can pre-order it here. You can also find him now on Twitter.

Comment

Remember to keep your posts clean. Profanity will get filtered, and offensive comments will be removed.


Truth & Rumors

MOST POPULAR

  1. 1
    Tuukka Rask takes blame for Bruins' Game 1 loss
    Views
    1865
    Comments
    229
  2. 2
    Smush Parker allegedly punches high schooler
    Views
    1528
    Comments
    136
  3. 3
    Joel Quenneville's Midnight Hawk favored to win Illinois Derby
    Views
    399
    Comments
    88
  4. 4
    Quarterback freefalling down draft boards
    Views
    5328
    Comments
    74
  5. 5
    Oklahoma State pays Peyton Manning $105K for speech
    Views
    521
    Comments
    25

SI.com

SI Photos