– The ninth edition of the West Asia Football Federation (WAFF) championship kicked off on Tuesday in the Iraqi province of Karbala with participation of nine national teams.
The first match between Iraq and Lebanon started after the opening ceremony in the modern Karbala International Stadium with the attendance of dozens of thousands of football fans.
Iraqi Minister of Youth and Sports Ahmed Riyadh delivered a brief speech during the ceremony to welcome the participating teams and urge them to convey a positive image about Iraq in order to contribute to fully lifting the ban on Iraq’s football stadiums.
“We want the championship to be an important step that bolsters our attempts to fully lift the ban on our football stadiums, especially the football stadiums in our beloved capital Baghdad,” Riyadh said.
The first match ended with Iraq winning one goal, scored in the second half by Hussein Ali, against nothing for Lebanon.
The Iraqi national team, dubbed the “Lions of Mesopotamia,” will be competing in Group A alongside Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, with hopes to clinch the title after winning the second edition of the championship in 2002.
Meanwhile Franso Hariri Stadium in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan, also hosted the matches of group B, where Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait and Bahrain are competing there.
The final match is scheduled to be held between the winners of the two groups on August 14 in Karbala International Stadium.
Earlier in March, the international governing body of football FIFA announced lifting a nearly three decades ban on Iraqi stadiums hosting international football matches, after FIFA’s decision to ban competitive matches on Iraq’s soil over security concerns following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.