ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iraq is set to host a foreign club for a competitive match for the first time in three decades after a FIFA ban on international and foreign club matches played on home soil was recently lifted.
Iraqi Premier League leaders Al-Zawra’a SC will play Lebanon’s Al-Ahed in a 2018 Asian Football Confederation Cup group match on Tuesday in the Shia city of Karbala, 100 kilometers south of Baghdad.
The country was banned from hosting international games since the early 1990s until FIFA, the world governing body for football, announced last month that the ban would be lifted.
However, only three stadiums in the country are allowed to host matches with Baghdad still banned due to ongoing violence in the Iraqi capital.
The stadiums given the green-light are the 30,000-seater in Karbala, the Basra Sports City stadium, and the country’s main venue in the Kurdistan Region capital of Erbil.
Al-Zawra’a manager Abdel Rahman Rashid told AFP it was “an honor” to be able to play a club match against a foreign opponent at home.
“We have been waiting for this kind of match for a long time,” he said, adding the team will “have the advantage of being at home, in front of its audience, and that will inflate player morale.”
After playing Al-Ahed, the Iraqi club will welcome Bahrain’s Manama while fellow Iraqi club Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya, also in the AFC Cup, will play Bahrain’s Malkiya in Karbala before hosting Oman’s Al-Suwaiq.
In March, Iraq hosted the 2018 International Friendship Tournament where they played both Qatar and Syria on home soil.
Since the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Iraq has not played full international games on home turf.
FIFA’s ban covered all matches but domestic ones and stayed in effect following the 2003 war in Iraq that led to the downfall of the regime of Saddam Hussein.