Foreign football club to play first Iraq tie since ban lifted

Iraq on Tuesday will host a foreign football club for a competitive match for the first time in decades, after FIFA gave the go-ahead for games to resume.

The feted Al-Zawraa club will face off against Lebanon’s Al-Ahed in an Asian Football Confederation match in the holy Shiite city of Karbala, 100 kilometres (62 miles) south of Baghdad.

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No matter the final score, the scheduled showdown is already being hailed as a win for war-torn Iraq, which just months ago declared victory over the Islamic State group.

The country was prohibited from hosting international games since the early 1990s until FIFA ruled in March to bring it back into the full international fold.

“Up until now we have been deprived the chance of seeing our team’s international exploits,” said Majid, a supporter of Al-Zawraa approaching his fifties.

“Now we’ll get to relive the atmosphere of the big matches.”

After first allowing the return of friendly games last year, global footballing authorities finally agreed to let foreign teams come for competitive games after agreeing security conditions were fine.

The return of international competitions has been seen as major progress by Iraqis and their government, as the country looks to attract investment and change its image after years of violence.

But still only three stadiums in Iraq have been given the greenlight to host the ties.

They are the 30,000-seater in Karbala, the country’s most modern arena in the southern city of Basra and the main stadium in Arbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.

For Baghdad team Al-Zawraa that means the game will still not exactly be a home match — as their regular stadium in the capital is not on the list.

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