In the Lions’ latest effort to fully lift the ban on international matches, Saudi Arabia are set to play in Iraq for the first time since 1979. The match will be hosted in Basra and will honour the career of legendary player Mahdi Karim, who announced retirement in January.
Both teams will field squads comprised of local talent. Saudi Arabia will be without their core players who joined La Liga in the winter transfer window, while Iraq will only have one expat in Yaser Kasim with the rest of the squad being from the Iraqi Premier League.
Despite the weakened squads, the fixture will still be one to watch. Iraq and Saudi Arabia have one of the oldest rivalries in Asia, culminating in the Asian Cup Final of 2007 that the Lions won 1-0. The Iraqis hope to break a four-game losing streak against their rivals, who are in fact the last team to beat Iraq in an official FIFA international almost 12 months ago. The last victory Iraq achieved over Saudi Arabia was five years ago, a 2-0 win in the 2013 Gulf Cup. A victory for Basim Qasim’s men will see an improvement in the FIFA ranking, and for the Saudis, this fixture will help in their preparation for the World Cup this summer.
The match will most likely be Iraq’s last before the FIFA Congress next month. FIFA are expected to vote on whether or not Iraq’s ban on international matches will be lifted completely, allowing Iraq to play competitive games there as well as friendlies. The game will also have political significance, with important diplomats from both nations expected to attend the match.
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