Homecoming beckons for elated Iraqis

  • Iraq to play their first competitive match on home soil for eight years

  • Basra to host Group C meeting with Hong Kong in Qatar 2022 qualifying

  • FIFA.com spoke to three of the Iraqi stars

After a very long wait, Iraqi football fans will finally get to watch their beloved Lions of Mesopotamia play a competitive game once again on home soil. The historic occasion will feature the visit of Hong Kong in the second round of AFC qualifying for the FIFA World Cup 2022™ in the country's southern city of Basra.

More than two years after playing their first friendly at the same venue, Iraq return to Basra for a much-anticipated competitive fixture in front of a passionate home support hungry for a first win in the qualifiers for Qatar 2022.

The team’s last competitive fixture in Iraq was their 2-0 loss to Jordan in Arbil in 2011 during the Asian qualifiers for Brazil 2014. Since that defeat, the West Asian side have had to play all their home matches abroad.

FIFA.com spoke to a number of the players, who expressed their enthusiasm and excitement about playing at home in Basra to the delight of this football-mad country.

“We’ve waited so long for this historic moment,” said defender Saad Natiq. “Personally, I can’t find the words to express how I feel. It’s a huge accomplishment for the Iraqi people.

“This match will have a special place in the history of Iraqi football, as it’s been many years since we played in our own country. This will be a big incentive for us to make our fans happy. Our dream now is to secure World Cup qualification for Iraq on home soil,” Natiq added.

Meanwhile, his team-mate and defender Ahmad Ibrahim, who has 92 international appearances to his name, praised Iraqi football fans for their passion for the beautiful game and expressed his belief that their support would provide much-needed motivation to register their first win of the qualification campaign.

“All the players want to take part in this match as it will go down in the history of Iraqi football,” the Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya defender told us. “We’ll be playing in our country and in front of our home crowd.

“We have a huge responsibility playing in front of our supporters as we have one of biggest and most football-crazy fan bases in West Asia. This will definitely help the players, and I hope we live up to expectations in what we expect to be a completely sold-out arena.

“Playing at home is always an advantage for a national team, and it’s something we’ve missed dearly in recent years,” Ibrahim concluded.

Iraq players celebrate a goal against Yamen

For his part, Midfielder Safaa Hadi reiterated the importance of securing three points “to entertain what we expect to be a large crowd at the stadium”.

“Playing in Iraq will definitely give us a lot of impetus, as it will be the first official game on home soil,” added the 22-year-old. “On a personal level, I’m very happy to be among the squad. At the same time, we have a huge responsibility as players to do our best and make our fans happy. Those supporters will be Player No1 at the stadium.

“We’ll be a difficult opponent for teams to face in these qualifiers and hope we can reach the World Cup finals."