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Bora springs another surprise

BY now, it is easy to understand why Bora Milutinovic has one of the biggest smiles in football.

After leading five different nations at the World Cup, he pulled his latest trick on Sunday in the Confederations Cup opener.

A master at turning underdogs into overachievers, he made sure Iraq escaped with a 0-0 draw against favored hosts South Africa.

A lack of goals never looked better to him.

"The only thing that is important for me is that the team is playing the way we played," the veteran Serb coach said.

And if his dour, negative tactics riled the Bafana Bafana fans, he didn't care.

"It depends how you watch the game," said Milutinovic, who made sure they would be celebrating in Baghdad on Sunday. "Some people are bored, for some people they are happy."

Milutinovic's conservative tactics with five men locked deep in defense and the others falling back immediately once possession was lost gave Iraq a point it didn't count on and a chance to reach the semifinals of the Confederations Cup.

No wonder he was smiling, much to the chagrin of South Africa coach Joel Santana.

"They were defending even when they were attacking," Santana growled. "Their fullbacks never crossed the halfway line."

Even luck was on the side of Milutinovic. With six minutes to play and goalkeeper Mohammed Kassid beaten, South Africa midfielder Kagisho Dikgacoi headed the ball toward goal, but it hit the leg of forward Bernard Parker on the goal line. It bounced back out of the goalmouth and Milutinovic was safe.

Had the 64-year-old coach ever seen anything like it?

"Never. But I am so happy that it happened today," he said.

Next up is Spain, and precious few give Iraq, ranked 77th in the world, a chance against the world's top-ranked team.

"Spain has very good players, very good team," Iraq midfielder Nashat Akram said. "Nobody knows. This is football."

Milutinovic has heard such talk so often, and has proved it wrong even more often.

He took little known Costa Rica to Italy in 1990, facing Brazil, Sweden and Scotland in the first round. No problem. He beat Sweden and Scotland to reach the second round.

The United States was never supposed to win anything during the World Cup it hosted in 1994. Then in walks Milutinovic. He guides them into the second round only to lose 0-1 to eventual champion Brazil. Milutinovic's team helped turn the tournament into one of the most successful World Cup in history.

He also led Mexico, Nigeria and China at World Cup tournaments.

Taking on Iraq at short notice to lead it at the Confederations Cup ran up the tally of national teams he has led to eight. And since he joined, Iraq has shot up to No. 77 in the FIFA rankings from 86th in just one month.

Iraq failed to qualify for next year's World Cup but Milutinovic is keeping his options open. He might well be back in South Africa next year with yet another team.


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