Iraq and the United Arab Emirates will play their 2022 World Cup qualifiers in Baghdad after Fifa lifted its decade-long ban on Iraq hosting fixtures due to security concerns.
Iraqi officials confirmed that the fixture that was initially scheduled to be played in Jordan or Qatar on 24 March has been moved to the home nation after world football’s governing body gave them the green light.
“We received an official notification from Fifa on Sunday confirming the lifting of the ban for all Iraqi stadiums,” spokesperson for the Iraqi Football Association Ahmed al-Moussaoui told AFP.
“We can host matches either in Al-Madina Stadium in the capital or two other stadiums.”
The capital city’s stadium hosted a full-capacity fixture between Iraq and Uganda last month. This was the first fixture in the city since Liberia visited in 2013 when the Fifa ban came into effect.
Fifa temporarily lifted its ban in 2019 for a World Cup qualifier between Iraq and Hong Kong but reinstated the ban shortly after the fixture.
Authorities in Iraq have spent the last months working to guarantee a football fixture can be played in the city which is currently going through a renaissance as evidenced by book fairs and art exhibitions throughout the town.
However, the rehabilitation is not without fault as the nation is still plagued by violence from time to time.
Iraq’s national football team has made use of the facilities in neighbouring countries for their home games whilst the ban was in effect.
Due to decades of conflict, the football facilities in the country have fallen into disrepair. Only the Al-Madina stadium in the capital city and two other stadiums are usable.
Iraq has only qualified once for the World Cup – in 1986. They are hoping to make their second appearance later this year.
Image source: @Eurosport