Basra pronounced ready to host sporting events as Iraq beats rival Kuwait in football friendly
In one of the Arab world's greatest football rivalries, Kuwait's national team came face-to-face with Iraq on Wednesday, marking their first match on Iraqi soil since the two sides played in Baghdad more than 30 years ago.
The friendly was organised to evaluate the country's readiness to host the upcoming 25th Gulf Cup in the southern city of Basra.
Playing at the Basra International Stadium, nicknamed the "Trunk of the Palm", the Iraqis started the game strongly but wasted several chances, with Kuwait's Eid al-Rashidi scoring first, in the 22nd minute.
In a match that was a part of both teams' preparations for the Asian double qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and the 2023 Asian Cup finals in China, both sides knew the importance of winning.
The Kuwaiti team went on to miss several chances to score early in the second half, including a 53rd-minute effort that saw the ball sail past the uprights.
In the final 10 minutes of the match, Iraq's Mohammed al-Dawoud turned the game around with an equaliser.
And just before full time, Iraq's Ayman Hussein scored the winning goal in the 88th minute after being awarded a penalty.
The teams have faced off 39 times in their history, with Iraq winning 16 times and Kuwait taking 14 victories, with nine matches ending in a draw. Wednesday's match was the first time the teams have met in Iraq since October 1989, when Iraq defeated Kuwait 1-0 with a clean goal scored by Natik Hashim.
Football brings people together
Because of Covid-19, Kuwaitis were not able to attend the game, but the match generated a lot of chatter on social media.
Yousef al-Shammari, a Kuwaiti resident, told Middle East Eye it was "bittersweet to see Kuwait and Iraq play off in Basra after four decades".
"It feels like brothers reuniting and sharing a lovely moment once again, especially given our history and the first Gulf War.
'It feels like brothers reuniting and sharing a lovely moment once again, especially given our history and the first Gulf War'
- Yousef al-Shammari, Kuwaiti resident
"It's a lovely reminder, especially in a pandemic [with] stressed-out hope on a global scale, that such moments that make us smile are still possible. Football is a beautiful game because of these moments."
Shammari went on to add that considering the bad blood between the two nations, "the match was another reminder that people are innocent of what their governments do. I want people to see such sports events and think to themselves the Iraqis are a wonderful people like my own people are wonderful".
"Whether our politicians or social actors boil our relationship or not, I need both our people to see this moment and realise we are brothers and we deserve to have more of these interactions in sports and outside of sports," Shammari said.
Iraq ready to host 25th Gulf Cup
Younis Saad is a Basra-based local who attended the match. "Politics always divide the peoples, but sport unites them," he said. "It is exactly what happened with Iraq since the Gulf War; the two teams never played inside our country, and I consider today a historic day [in which] the sport won over politics.
"I hope the 25th Arabian Gulf Cup [will] be held in Basra, it is our right to play in our lands. Basra is ready to host it, and all countries are welcomed to visit Iraq, and play here."
Iraqi officials told MEE that the match, not just the victory, was an opportunity to showcase how Iraq was able to hold international competitions, in particular the Arabian Gulf Cup, which Basra will host this year.
"It is not only a friendly match, but it opens the door for future cooperation on all sides, including socially, cultural, politics, and economics," said Sadiq al-Kinani, head of Basra Youth and Sports.
"Our stadiums, hotels, airports, hospitals, infrastructure, and touristic places are totally complete to host visitors who are supposed to come to Basra if we host the 25th Arabian Gulf Cup."
Said Abdulridha Abbas, a Kuwaiti Sports Authority board member, echoed the sentiment and told MEE that the match represented Iraq's advancement in the arena of sports.
"We congratulate the Iraqi team for winning the game and today's match represents a security advance for Iraq and an evolution in highlighting the role of sports for peoples, that is why the Kuwaiti national team came to Basra feeling reassured and comfort to visit Basra and play in its land," he said.