They haven't had a mega event like this for years. Stadium sold out, extatic crowds. Who would have thought it was only a friendly game against Jordan?
It wasn't a regular Thursday night for people in Iraq. Exactly 59,948 enthusiastic supporters entered the Basrah International Stadium, representing a sell-out crowd. Even more, tickets were sold out within just days, with only the premium seating rather empty.
It would be hard to believe that it was just a friendly game against Jordan if not for the extraordinary situation of Iraq. The country is still dealing with serious safety issues and international football under the auspice of FIFA has been banned since 2013.
Currently Iraq is undergoing a 90-day probation period and is allowed to host games in three selected stadia: Basra, Karbala and Irbil. There is a list of conditions that need to be met before a game can take place, one of them being the rivals' agreement to play in Iraq.
Since just a few days ago South Korea declined to come here and asked for a neutral ground in the Emirates, last night the pressure was extremely high. A massive number of 5,000 policemen and soldiers were deployed to ensure everyone's safety. Though there were shortcomings, overall the game was carried out in safe and festive atmosphere, appreciated by Ali Al Hussein, the crown prince of Jordan, who was in attendance.
According to some estimates last night saw the single largest football match in Iraq's history, though others claim the record was set at 70,000 in 1991. Either way, Iraq won 1:0 and, perhaps more importantly, organisers proved they're capable of safely holding a game with 60,000 people.