Iraq rolls out red car­pet for the Saudi Green Fal­cons


JED­DAH: Saudi Ara­bia will play their first foot­ball match in Iraq for al­most four decades in a his­toric meet­ing in Basra on Wed­nes­day.

The game in the 60,000-seat sta­dium in Basra Sports City sends a de­fi­ant mes­sage af­ter the de­feat of Daesh and high­lights Saudi Ara­bia’s rapidly im­prov­ing re­la­tions with Bagh­dad.

The match is also of great im­por­tance for Iraqi foot­ball. The friendly is a rare in­ter­na­tional played on Iraqi soil. The coun­try has not played full in­ter­na­tion­als at home since its 1990 in­va­sion Kuwait.

The last time the two teams met in Iraq was in Bagh­dad in April 1979. Iran was in the throes of its rev­o­lu­tion, and in lit­tle over a year Iraq was plunged into the horrors of the Iran-Iraq war.

In Basra, a mood of ex­cite­ment has swept the city with the ar­rival of the Green Fal­cons, who have qual­i­fied for the 2018 World Cup.

“For us, see­ing Arab teams play in Basra was a dream,” Am­mar of Ki­tan, 56, who works for the city coun­cil, told AFP.

This dream “is not only im­por­tant for Basra but for all Iraq,” said Ahmed Mas­soud, a 25-year-old stu­dent, be­cause “this match against a team that goes to the World Cup will help lift the (FIFA) ban and prove that the city is safe.”

For­mer Iraq coach Jor­van Vieira told Arab News that the match rep­re­sents a “very im­por­tant mo­ment” for foot­ball in the coun­try. “Saudi Ara­bia is a big, in­flu­en­tial coun­try in the re­gion — both in foot­ball and pol­i­tics — and their na­tional team is very well re­spected.

“This kind of match against a strong team like Saudi Ara­bia will raise the pro­file and hope­fully help FIFA see that com­pet­i­tive matches should be con­sid­ered again.”

The au­thor­i­ties have said they will hand out hun­dreds of Saudi green flags in the run-up to kick­off.

Res­i­dents of the city have also launched a so­cial me­dia cam­paign wel­com­ing the Saudi play­ers called “Greens, you’re at home!”

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