Iraq's mainly expat national soccer team are looking foward to
returning home to celebrate winning the Asian Cup, but some are
fearful for their safety and for the security of any jubilant
Iraqi Youth and Sports Minister Jasem Mohammed Jaafar said on
Monday it was hoped the team, most of whose players live abroad,
would arrive in Baghdad this week after their historic triumph in
Jakarta on Sunday.
"They will be met at the airport by representatives of the prime
minister, president and speaker of the Council of Representatives,"
Jaafar told Reuters.
"We are studying how to offer them the necessary security so
they can enjoy the events we have for them," he said.
Suicide car bombs killed 50 people after Iraq's semi-final win
over South Korea last week sent celebrating fans pouring into the
Players fear they, and the large crowds expected to turn out to
meet them, would be easy targets for insurgents.
"I am very happy and my wish is to be able to go to Iraq and
live this moment with Iraqis," Iraqi team captain Younis Mahmoud
told Reuters by telephone from Indonesia.
"Our objective was to win the Cup and we have it, but now our
minds are set on where and how we can celebrate in these difficult
circumstances," he said.
Mahmoud, who scored the winning goal in the final against Saudi
Arabia, was named player of the tournament.
His team won Iraq's first Asian Cup title against the odds,
overcoming logistical and training problems and led by a Brazilian
coach who had only been in the job for two months.
Midfielder Hawar Mullah Mohammad, who set up Mahmoud's goal with
an inch-perfect corner kick, said he was also looking forward to a
"We wish we could go back and get a reception like other winning
teams in open-top buses," Mohammad told Reuters.
"But we don't only fear for ourselves, we are also afraid for
the safety of the large crowds that may be targeted by terrorists,"
Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh tried to reassure Mahmoud
and his players.
"The players shouldn't worry because there are many safe places
in Baghdad," he said.
Thousands of jubilant fans took to the streets on Sunday in the
biggest nationwide celebrations since the fall of Saddam Hussein in
2003, the win offering war-weary Iraqis a rare moment of
(China Daily via Reuters July 31, 2007)