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War-ravaged Aleppo finally experiences derby after five-year absence

Under tight security, Al Ittihad beat Horiyah 2-1 in front of a large crowd at the Riayat al-Shabab stadium in Aleppo.

football Updated: Jan 29, 2017 16:46 IST

Some semblance of normality returned to battle-scarred Aleppo for a few hours on Saturday as local soccer clubs Al Ittihad and Horiyah met in the first derby in the city for five years.

Bomb damage was clear around the Riayat al-Shabab stadium but a large crowd arrived under tight security to watch a lively game won 2-1 by six-times Syrian title winners Al Ittihad.

Everyday life, let alone sport, has been almost impossible in the city which has been ripped apart during five years of violence across the country. For months it was besieged by Syrian government forces and Russian-backed airstrikes.

Last month the army re-took Aleppo’s eastern neighbourhoods from rebel groups, regaining control of the whole city.

Horiyah player Firas al-Ahmad said that despite the ongoing problems in the city it was good to be home.

“We are playing on our ground between our audiences in Aleppo,” he told Reuters TV. “We suffered from the difficulties of travelling which affected us.

“It is our right to play in Aleppo. We play better in Aleppo. We want to make Aleppo’s name high.”

The Syrian football league has struggled on throughout the conflict but games have been possible only in Damascus and Latakia.

Aleppo, a once-flourishing economic centre with renowned ancient sites, has been pulverised during the war that has killed more than 300,000 people and created one of the world’s worst refugee crises.

First Published: Jan 29, 2017 16:46 IST