BAGHDAD — Iraqis in Irbil seemed unconcerned by security considerations on July 10 in a major show of support for their national football team, which gave them cause to celebrate by routing Palestine in the first international match on home turf since 2003. The Iraqi team defeated the Palestinians 3-0 in that friendly, its first home game since 2002, when it defeated Syria 2-1.
Spectators who attended the match said that although the team had languished for almost seven years without a national pitch, they came back with renewed vigour against Palestine. Commenting on the game, Aswat Al-Iraq said the Iraqis dominated play and forced the Palestinians to maintain a defensive posture throughout the match.
The violence that has engulfed Iraq since 2003 put an end to football inside the country. Now, with the number of violent incidents declining and calm returning to the country, there are renewed hopes for the Iraqi squad. For many fans, football matches are a clear sign that life will improve in the future.
Hussein Said, the head of the Iraqi Football Federation, told the crowd packing the stands that holding the match in Irbil “is sending a clear message to the world that Iraq is back and that security is prevailing. We are here today because football is a message of love.”
Thousands of Iraqis travelled from as far as central and even southern Iraq to attend the match. It indicated to other teams around the world that Iraq is safe once again for football.
Hawar Mohamed Mulla scored the first goal in the 20th minute followed quickly by a second goal when Ahmed Younes sent home a header before the end of the first half. In the last minute of the second half, Luwi Salah scored the third and final goal with a powerful shot that swept past Palestinian goalkeeper Hossam Fadl.
Cheers had already erupted before the final whistle of the match, with the 25,000 strong crowd chanting in unison, “Iraq! Iraq!”
Sources: Al-Sumeria/Associated Press/Aswat Al-Iraq/ BBC