Iraqis gripped by Spanish football maniaMarch 25th, 2008 - 1:06 pm ICT by admin
Baghdad, March 25 (DPA) Iraqis, freed from the shackles of the former regime of Saddam Hussein, are obsessed with Spanish football teams Barcelona and Real Madrid. Football fans in the country did not always follow international football, but in recent times the glow of domestic Iraqi football faded when most of the professional local players joined stronger teams in Gulf countries.
Not only were these players seeking lucrative professional contracts, they were also trying to escape Iraq’s deteriorating security situation after the US-led invasion of the country in 2003.
Since then, international football has become a national obsession.
“There is now an opportunity to watch live international football matches compared with the situation five years ago,” Rafed Abdul-Baky, an Iraqi employee said.
He said the unsafe climate had forced Iraqis to sit at home to watch international matches on TV, instead of going to local stadiums.
“I used to support an Iraqi football team called Al-Qowa Al-Jawya, for its significant achievements in the Iraqi league, but now after the US invasion of Iraq, I can’t even go to the public stadium fearing explosions,” Abdul-Baky said.
Satellite television receivers, which were banned during the Saddam era, now allow millions of Iraqis to watch live international football games, instead of just short highlights during the news.
Football mania is widely reflected in the tremendous popularity of Spain’s Barcelona and Real Madrid in Iraq.
When it comes to football, Iraqis pay no heed to the previous presence of Spanish troops in the Iraqi city of Diwaniyah, supporting the US invasion in their country.
“I totally adore Barcelona. It is the best football team in the world with famous players such as Ronaldinho, Eto’o and Messi,” Ahmed, a 22-year-old Iraqi Barcelona fan, said.
“I have the Spanish league schedule and pictures of my favourite Spanish football players on the walls of my bedroom.”
He said that he was more interested in Spanish results than local news about politics and sports in Iraq.
Iraqis take to the streets to celebrate any victory of the two Spanish giants, greeting each other and handing over candy to children.
However, the loss of Barcelona or Real Madrid becomes a sad occasion, when many Iraqis switch off their mobile phones to avoid mockery.
“I do not care much about the Iraqi league mainly because of the security situation and top Iraqi football players leaving the country to play for other countries,” said Ahmed.
“It is not a surprise that Iraqis support international football teams. Football attracts everyone around the world,” said Ibrahim al-Sheikhly, a 57-year-old Iraqi.
In the 1980s, the Iraqi national football team achieved a lot, making it one of the most successful Arab teams. It won the Arab Nations Cup four times and the Gulf Cup of Nations three times and qualified for the World Cup in 1986.
But things changed when Uday Hussein, Saddam’s son, was put in charge of the Iraqi Olympic Committee, which put him charge of the national team and domestic football.
During the time tournaments were irregularly held and players used to be threatened and tortured for losses and missed practices. In 1996, Iraq ranked 139 among football teams in the world.
But in 2007 the country won the Asian Cup for the first time and fans are hoping that it heralds the beginning of a new era.
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