First int’l competitive football game played on Iraqi soil since FIFA lifted ban
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Although the match with a Lebanese club ended in a draw, football fans felt pride to host the first international competitive football match on Iraqi soil in several years since FIFA lifted the ban on the war-torn country.
"We're playing in front of our fans and we have to take advantage,” Ayub Oudisho, coach for Iraq’s Al-Zawraa club told AFP before the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) match on Tuesday. “It’s an important game for us.”
Baghdad’s Al-Zawraa club and Beirut’s Al-Ahed drew 1-1 in a match played in Karbala, where the stadium of 30,000 seats was nearly at full capacity.
Iraq has been banned from hosting international competitive tournaments for almost three decades. An embargo was placed on the country in response to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
Owing to security concerns and economic instability, the ban remained in place even after the 2003 US invasion.
Hopes were raised when the ban was temporarily lifted in 2013, paving the way for Erbil to host an Iraq-Jordan match. However, the game was interrupted by a power outage, leading FIFA to reimpose the ban.
FIFA lifted the ban in March saying security concerns were no longer an issue.
"The world saw that Iraq was at the level and that it had the capacity to host a championship," said one fan, Ali Essam.
Iraq views the return of international competitions as major progress after years of violence and hopes to attract investment and tourism to increase revenue in a country which has faced years of financial instability.
Although FIFA has lifted the ban on international competitions in Iraq, the country has only given the green light for three stadiums to host matches.
Karbala, where Al-Zawraa and Al-Ahed played on Tuesday is the country’s most modern stadium.
The other two available are located in Iraq’s southern city of Basra and the main stadium is in the Kurdistan Region’s capital of Erbil.
Although Iraqi fan Essam’s team Al-Zawraa didn’t win, he still felt pride in Iraq hosting the international competitive match.
"The most important thing is not the result but the club, which is the pride of the entire country," he said.