Iraq hosts friendly football match in striving for lift of FIFA ban

Source: Xinhua| 2018-03-01 04:48:40|Editor: yan
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BAGHDAD, Feb. 28 (Xinhua) -- Iraq hosted a football international friendly match and beat Saudi Arabia 4-1 on Wednesday, in a bid to strengthen Iraq's case for the lift of a FIFA ban of hosting international matches.

The first half of the match, which was broadcast in many local and regional TV channels, ended with Iraq scoring one goal in the 20th minute, while the rest four goals were notched in the second half.

The match against the Saudis, who have qualified for the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia, is the first in 39 years since last game for the Saudi national team in Iraq.

Several hours before the kick-off of the match, scheduled at 7:00 p.m. (1600 GMT), thousands of Iraqi fans poured into the 65,000-seat stadium in the western part of Basra, some 550 km south of the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

FIFA has banned Iraq from hosting international matches for more than three decades due to wars, security concerns and economic instability. The ban continued even after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The ban was temporarily lifted in 2012, but was re-imposed after power cut interrupted a match of Iraq-Jordan in Erbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdistan.

Security situation in Iraq has been dramatically improved after the Iraqi security forces fully defeated the extremist Islamic State (IS) militants across the country late in 2017, pushing FIFA to allow hosting friendlies in Iraqi stadiums in Basra, Karbala and Erbil.

The match with Saudis national team is part of Iraq's diplomacy to improve ties with the Arab world, in addition to adopting measures inside Iraq, including improving security inside the stadium of Basra sport city.

Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa, president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), said in a press conference before the match that "time has come to totally lift the ban on Iraqi football."

"Iraq has made a great effort for the lift of the ban," he said, adding that he "hope that the FIFA would issue a resolution to lift the ban in its session due in March 16."

Earlier in the day, the Iraqi Ministry of Youth and Sport quoted Minister Abdul-Hussein Abttan said "the match between Iraq and Saudi Arabia is very important, as it is a final scenario that precedes the decision to lift the ban permanently from our stadiums."

The match "crowns the efforts of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the Iraqi Football Federation and other sports institutions to end the ban file," Abttan said.

Basra sport city, which was built by the government of Iraq with a budget of 550 million U.S. dollars, was opened in 2013 with its main 60,000-seat stadium, a secondary 20,000-seat stadium, four Five Stars hotels and other sports-related facilities. Enditem