Iraq hoping Saudi Arabia friendly leads to more international games

Iraq hoping Saudi Arabia friendly leads to more international games
Iraq, seen here competing in the Gulf Cup of Nations in Kuwait City in January, are hoping to convince FIFA to lift its ban on home international matches. (AFP)
Updated 26 February 2018

Iraq hoping Saudi Arabia friendly leads to more international games

Iraq hoping Saudi Arabia friendly leads to more international games

LONDON: Iraq’s Sports and Youth Minister Abdulhussein Abttan hopes that Wednesday’s friendly against Saudi Arabia boosts the country’s case for a total lifting of FIFA’s ban on it hosting competitive matches.
Iraq have not played full internationals on home turf ever since the first Gulf War in 1990.
The ban, covering all but local matches, stayed in place after the US-led invasion of 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein. It was briefly lifted in 2012, but a power outage during an Iraq-Jordan match in the Iraqi Kurdish capital Irbil led FIFA to promptly to reinstate it.
In December Iraq declared victory over Daesh following a three-year battle, and football’s governing body finally relaxed the ban, allowing international friendlies at stadiums in Irbil, Basra and the shrine city of Karbala.
And with the visit of the Green Falcons to Basra, it is hoped the match will illustrate that the country can once again play host to top-level international teams.
“Politics is present in every domain, and Saudi Arabia has major political weight,” Abdulhussein Abttan said.
“I hope that this match will inspire other national teams to visit Iraq, which will help support our case for a total lifting of FIFA’s ban on matches in our stadiums,” he said, ahead of a decision the sport’s governing body is expected to take next month.
Iraq is also hosting a four-country tournament in March in Karbala, although Kuwait has pulled out.
Iraq have invited FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, to visit the country, a spokesman for the federation said, but no decision has yet been taken on whether the trip will go ahead.
While Iraq hope the match helps their aim of hosting top-level football again, for Saudi Arabia it is a stepping stone on their way to what they hope is a good World Cup campaign.
The Green Falcons are set to play in a series of high-profile friendlies as preparation for this summer’s showpiece in Russia. Following Wednsday’s clash again their Arab neighbors, Juan Antonio Pizzi’s men will face Ukraine, Belgium, Peru, Italy and Germany before their first Group A game against Russia in Moscow on June 14.