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Iraqis Cheer for a Team That Again Is at Home
The NY Times ^ | July 13, 2009 | STEVEN LEE MYERS

Posted on 07/15/2009 5:08:46 AM PDT by forkinsocket

BAGHDAD — The score did not matter so much — well, it mattered some. More important was that Iraq’s itinerant national soccer team, displaced for years by war, finally returned to Baghdad on Monday night to play a home match at home.

In a dusty summer swelter, tens of thousands of Iraqis poured into Baghdad’s shabby Shaab Stadium and for the first time since 2002 filled it with a cacophony of clapping, clanging, chanting and cheering for the one thing that unifies Iraq more than any other.

“Iraq! Iraq!” they chanted hours before the match, the stadium filled past capacity and genuinely festive like nothing Baghdad had experienced in years.

A roar went up when the national team jogged out, formed a circle at midfield and, as one, kissed the ground. It became deafening when Iraq’s Kurdish hero, Hawar Mulla Mohammed, scored the team’s first goal 27 minutes into the match, the second of two friendly contests against a Palestinian team, from another beleaguered place.

It never really let up as Iraq scored three more goals, cruising to a 4-0 victory. The first match was played on Friday night in Irbil, in the relative security of Kurdish northern Iraq, with Iraq winning by a similarly lopsided score, 3-0. Iraq’s new coach, Nadhim Shakir, described the games as milestones, comparing the team’s return home to an experience thousands of Iraqis have endured since the American invasion in 2003.

“We are like someone who’s been displaced from his house,” he said before the match on Monday. “Now, at last, he is going back.”

Like many of Iraq’s recent milestones — including the withdrawal of American combat forces from the cities 13 days ago — the match was colored by the realities of a capital that is more secure, but far from safe.

(Excerpt) Read more at ...

TOPICS: Culture/Society
KEYWORDS: iraq; soccer; team
1 posted on 07/15/2009 5:08:47 AM PDT by forkinsocket
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