ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Chants of “God is great! Saddam Hussein!” rang around the Omar Hamadi Stadium in Algeria mid-way through a game between Iraqi club Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya and Algeria’s USM Alger on Sunday before players from the Iraqi team walked off the pitch, abandoning the match.
The Iraqi club was hoping to overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit but ended up going down 3-0 on aggregate.
Supporters of the Algerian side were in a carefree mood as their team scored twice in the first half. Defender Mohamed Rabie Meftah opened the scoring on 39 minutes before an own goal by Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya midfielder Saad Natiq moments before the half-time whistle.
Things turned sour in the 75th minute when the home fans began singing praises of the former Iraqi dictator, leading the Iraqi players to leave the pitch in protest, effectively abandoning the match.
The referee, from the United Arab Emirates, waited for 15-minutes before calling an end to the game. USM Alger won the tie 3-0 on aggregate to qualify for the second round of the competition.
Following the incident, the Iraqi club’s coach, Bassem Qassem, accused the Algerian fans of demonstrating “backward and extremist ideas.”
“We can’t accept the crowd insulting our country and our team,” he said in a video broadcast after the match. “Why would we play in front of a sectarian crowd?”
Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya is one of Iraq’s most decorated clubs and the only one in the country which has won honors on the continental level, lifting the AFC Cup twice in 2016 and 2017. Most of the players on the club hail from Karbala, a Shia-majority city.
In the aftermath of the incident, the Iraq Football Association (IFA) said it would consider pulling its remaining team, Al-Naft, from the tournament.
Al-Naft is level 1-1 on aggregate against Tunisian opponents CS Sfaxien. They are expected to play the second-leg in Sfax, Tunisia, on Sept. 30.
In a statement, IFA president Abdel Khaleq Massud called on the Union of Arab Football Associations, which oversees the competition, “to restore respect for Iraqi football.” Massud said Iraq’s football federation opposes “all extremist and sectarian slogans.”
Meanwhile, on Monday, Iraq’s foreign ministry said it had summoned Algeria’s ambassador to address “the horrible glorification of the regime of murderous dictator Saddam Hussein.”
The Arab Club Champions Cup is an inter-club football tournament which features 20 Arab teams from Asia and 20 from Africa.
The Stade Mohammed V in the city of Casablanca, Morocco, will host the 2018/19 final on April 28, 2019.