Football

Iraq hosts first football international competition in three decades

Last Friday, FIFA lifted the ban on international matches allowing Basra, Karbala and Irbil to host full international games and competitions.

Iraq hosts first football international competition in three decades
KARIM JAAAFAR AFP

Iraqi football fans are celebrating the lifting of Fifa’s three-decade long ban on their country hosting international matches and competitions, as today, a friendly tournament with Syria and Qatar as hosts kicked-off.

The first match, an Iraq-Qatar encounter in the southern city of Basra, ended 2-3 for the visitors.

Basra, Karbala and Irbil allowed to host matches

For the first time since the 1990 Iraq invasion of Kuwait, the cities of Basra, Karbala and Irbil – considered to be the safest in the country – will be allowed to host international matches.

“We are allowing international matches to be staged in the cities of Erbil, Basra and Karbala,” Fifa president Gianni Infantino said last week.

In response to Fifa’s decision, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the lifting of Fifa’s ban 'was the result of stability, security and successes achieved by Iraq in all fields,'

Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, was not included in the lift, as it still sees frequent militant attacks.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) welcomed Fifa’s verdict to lift the ban.

“This is a significant moment in shaping the future of football in Iraq” the AFC said in a statement.

“The AFC, and the Asian football family as a whole, have supported this structured return of competitive football to Iraq”.

Not the first time the ban is lifted

The ban was temporarily lifted in 2012 when Erbil hosted an Iraq-Jordan match, only for the game to be interrupted by a power failure, leading Fifa to reimpose the sanction.

However, in February, after receiving permission by Fifa, Iraq was the venue for a friendly international against Saudi Arabia in Basra.

The clash, which ended 4-1 to Iraq, was the first time in over four decades that the nation had played a home match against neighbouring Saudi Arabia.