From the famous Shorja markets in the center of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, the Iraqi fan Abdul Raouf Al-Mayahi leads the correspondent of “Sky News Arabia” to the historic “Al-Zahawi Cafe”, through the old alleys and alleys of the city, decorated with Iraqi national flags, and points to the seat on which he sat nearly three decades ago. Exactly in this café, to watch the match that brought together the Iraqi national football team with its Iranian counterpart in late 1993, in the World Cup qualifiers.
Al-Mayahi narrates to “Sky News Arabia” the identical details between the atmosphere of today’s match, and what it was like in the nineties of the last century, saying: “Exactly as today, all residents of Iraqi cities were heading to gather in public cafes, because the match was taking place in the Qatari capital, Doha, After Iraq was deprived of playing matches on its soil and among its fans.
He added: “The 1993 match against Iran was an exceptional opportunity for the Iraqis to recover from their wounds, by feeling lonely during that match against Iran, against which Iraq had fought a bloody war in the eighties, and the football confrontations between the two countries took a political character and an exceptional competition. I remember the winning goal scored by Alaa Kazem against the Iran national team, and how all of Baghdad was ablaze with joys and ululations, and like all Iraqi cities, after long years of division and sorrows, hopes rose to qualify for the World Cup finals that took place the following year in the United States of America.
Iraq leads the third group of these qualifiers, with a total of 17 points, ahead of Iran by two points, and this match is the eighth and last in this group, and thus the Iraqi team needs to either win or draw in this confrontation, to ensure qualification for the Asian Cup and the final Asian qualifiers for the World Cup.
As in the 1990s match, this meeting takes on a political nature and sensitivity, due to the internal political conflict in Iraq, as Iran is accused of supporting the Iraqi armed factions, which are working to suppress the demonstrations that began nearly two years ago, and stir up strife in the country.
Many Iraqis on social media see this match as a symbolic restitution for the millions of young Iraqis involved in this popular uprising.
The Iraqi sports critic Jaafar Essawi explained in an interview with “Sky News Arabia” the merits of this football confrontation, saying: “The football confrontations between the teams of Iraq and Iran take on a special character, similar to the Clasico matches that take place between the strongest clubs, as the Iraqi and Iranian teams were the strongest in the West Asia region. For decades, each of them served as a barrier to the other’s qualification for world championships.”
Issawi added, “This does not negate the existence of political influences and cultural sensitivities by virtue of the neighborhood and the turbulent political relations between the two countries for decades until now. In the 1990s, the two teams faced each other three times, one in the World Cup qualifiers and two in the Asian Cup matches, and the three matches are stuck in the collective memory of the Iraqis. , because of the public enthusiasm I witnessed in various regions of Iraq, although it took place outside Iraq, due to the political sanctions on Iraq at the time, and that was an additional factor for the enthusiasm, just like now.”
The expectations of the observers went to a balance between the technical energies of the two teams, with the relative superiority of the Iranian team, which was confirmed by the Slovenian coach of the Iraqi national team, Srečko Katanic, who said in press statements: “An important and fateful match awaits us in the last round against Iran to resolve the top of the third group.” On the potential of players Tariq Hammam, Alaa Abdul-Zahra and Mohannad Ali, they face Iranian professional players with a high level of teamwork, such as Mehdi Taremi, Waheed Amiri and Karim Ansari.
The Iraqi Prime Minister, Mustafa Al-Kazemi, directed Monday, to provide all forms of support to the Iraqi national team, as the Iraqi youth minister and the famous former player in the Iraqi team, Adnan Darjal, is with the Iraqi team’s delegation in the Bahraini capital, Manama, to support the players.
On social media, many analyzes and betting groups spread about the outcome of the match, and it turned into an arena for discussion and how to provide support and support to the Iraqi team, while voices opposed to diverting the course of encouragement and support to any sectarian or ethnic discourse that remove the football competition from its framework and sports space rose among those groups.