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Kuwaiti players back after 19 years
First football match since 1990 invasion to take place between Kuwaiti and Iraqi sides.
Last Modified: 29 Sep 2009 13:29 GMT

Emotions ran high in July when Iraq played their first international match in Baghdad since the 2003 invasion [AFP]

A Kuwaiti football team will play in Iraq in the first sports competition between the countries since Saddam Hussein invaded his southern neighbours in 1990.

The match between Irbil and Kuwait Sports Club on Wednesday in the second leg of the Asian Football Confederation Cup's quarter-finals will have extra security at the nearly 21,000-seat sold-out stadium in the Kurdish city of Irbil.

The first leg ended in a 1-1 draw.

"Despite the huge number of fans expected to attend the match, we do not expect any trouble because these fans know that Irbil soccer team represents all Iraqi football teams," Irbil vice president Abdul-Khaleq Massoud said.

Individual Iraqi athletes have competed against Kuwait in international tournaments, but the match in Irbil will mark another milestone in the gradual reconciliation between the two countries.

Diplomatic ties were restored after Saddam's fall in 2003.

In February, Kuwait's deputy prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed Al Sabah, visited Iraq as the highest-level envoy since Saddam's 1990 invasion and occupation of Kuwait, which ended after Iraqi forces were driven out by a US-led coalition in 1991.

But Kuwait has refused Iraqi appeals to reduce its demands for war reparations and forgive about $15billion in Iraqi debt.

Iraq's sporting successes have provided welcome distractions from the country's violence in the past several years.

In 2007, sectarian bloodshed paused as the nation celebrated after Iraq surprisingly won the Asian Cup, while in July this year Asian football officials cleared the way for Iraq to host matches.

Next year, Irbil will host Group C in qualifying for the AFC Under-19 Championship.

Source:
Agencies
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