Finally, Iraqis play ball after years of suffering
Iraq's national soccer team beat Palestine 4-0 on Monday in their first international match in Baghdad since the 2003 US-led invasion.sports Updated: Jul 14, 2009 23:50 IST
Iraq's national soccer team beat Palestine 4-0 on Monday in their first international match in Baghdad since the 2003 US-led invasion.
Baghdad's Shaab stadium, which seats about 45,000 people, was bursting with Iraqis waving flags and cheering on their national side, although few Palestinians made it to the game.
"I am so happy!" shouted Jabbar Qassim, 21, shortly after performing a break dance with his friend to an amused crowd. "Mark my words, I will come to every match the Iraqi football team plays in Baghdad forever."
The country hosted on Friday its first match since the war in the northern Kurdish city of Arbil. Iraq also beat Palestine in that match, 3-0.
FIFA, soccer's world governing body, approved both games, but has yet to lift a general ban on Iraq hosting matches.
"We have waited more than six years for this," said Nasser al-Shimari, 37, who brought his family.
"It's great to see our team live. Now we feel like any other country in the world."
One family came from Basra 420 kilometres (260 miles) by car.
Nadhim Shakir, who replaced Bora Milutinovic as Iraq's coach after the team were knocked out of the Confederations Cup last month, hopes Iraq can soon host other internationals.
Iraqi soccer players, like many Iraqi athletes, have sometimes been targeted by militants and criminals.
In March 2008, gunmen killed a local team coach and ex-footballer Munther Khalaf outside his home.
An Iraqi soccer fan shot dead a player of an opposing local team during a match in March 2009 in the town of Hilla, south of Baghdad. "The message is clear, there is security in Baghdad," said Najeh Ihmoud, deputy head of the Iraqi Football Federation. "They are sending a message to the international union to lift the ban on Iraqi sport." Iraqis love football. Their team were the surprise winners of the 2007 Asian Cup.