We are all well aware of the gifts that are sometimes showered on a country’s international players after they have been successful, but a recent victory by Iraq XI over Saudi Arabia 4 – 1 in a friendly match has led to a remarkable bonus for football in Iraq. The Iraq side was very much the underdogs having failed to qualify for this year’s World Cup in Russia, something the Saudi team have achieved, a fact not lost on King Salman who promised to buy Iraq a stadium if they ran out the winners in the game – which they did!
King Salman, has been good to his word, and has given the go-ahead for a 135,000–seater stadium to be built, it will be the largest in the world and virtually twice the size of the stadium in Basra where the match was played.
The game was, in fact, the first international match to be played on Iraqi soil since the invasion of Kuwait sparked an international embargo. Iraq’s Prime Minister, who took the call from King Salman said: “I have received a phone call from the King of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdul Aziz. He hailed Iraqi’s victory [in the friendly match] and expressed his preparedness and commitment to expanding positive relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia at different levels. Economical, commercial, communal, cultural… at all levels that are of interest for the two countries.”
There has been quite an extensive collection of stadiums been built across the Gulf ahead of the World Cup, which is due to be played there in 2022, four years time.
However, most of these stadiums, such as the Doha Port Stadium, and the Qatar Foundation Stadium, are about a third of the proposed Stadium in Iraq. It seems to be clear that people in the Gulf are keen for a legacy for football in the Middle East, following the qualification of Saudi Arabia this year and the granting of the competition in four years time.