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FOOTBALL
Iraq and Iran meet 'as friends'
Teams play down memories of Iran-Iraq war ahead of their opening match in Asian Cup Group D.
Last Modified: 10 Jan 2011 18:53 GMT
Iran coach Ghotbi said he hoped that the Asian Cup Group D match against Iraq could help to 'mend hearts' [Reuters]

Iraq scored one of sport's unlikely successes when they won the Asian Cup four years ago and it would be almost as big a surprise if they retained the trophy after kicking off their Group D campaign against neighbours Iran on Tuesday.

A meeting between Iran and Iraq naturally evokes memories of their 1980-88 war but both camps were eager to emphasise the sporting aspect of their rivalry on Monday.

Waleed Tabra, Iraq's general manager, said on Monday that none of the players or coaching staff would be thinking of anything other than winning the match.

Tabra told the Reuters news agency: "Iran and Iraq are friendly neighbours. We have a shared border, a deep history and relationship that goes back centuries.

"We have the same religions, Iranians marry Iraqis, Iraqis marry Iranians, it's good for the two countries.

Results & fixtures

Friday January 7
Group A
 Qatar 0-2 Uzbekistan

Saturday January 8
Group A
 Kuwait 0-2 China

Sunday January 9
Group B
 Japan 1-1 Jordan
 Saudi Arabia 1-2 Syria

Monday January 10
Group C
 India 0-4 Australia
 South Korea 2-1 Bahrain

Tuesday January 11
Group D
 
North Korea v UAE
 Iraq v Iran

"But football is something different, it's competitive. We are playing to win, they are playing to win. It has nothing to do with what happened in the 1980s.

"We have played against Iran for decades, we are rivals on the field. Nobody mentions the war now, it was beyond the reach of most people, it is history now."

'Opportunity'

Iran coach Afshin Ghotbi, who has vowed to bring the Asian Cup title back to Iran for the first time since 1976, said: "What makes football the number one sport in the world is because it brings people together, and I hope the Iran-Iraq match is an opportunity for the Iranian and Iraqi people to mend hearts and be friends."

Iran may have won three Asian Cup titles, but they were long ago in 1968, 1972 and 1976. They have, however, since qualified for four consecutive World Cups.

"Iran is going to end their 35-year title drought," Ghotbi added ahead of the match at the Al-Rayyan stadium.

"For a country like Iran, with such a history, we always aim to win the championship. We are well prepared for our match against Iraq and we will qualify for the knockout stages."

Group D also contains North Korea and an emerging United Arab Emirates side.

Iraq's vastly experienced German coach Wolfgang Sidka, the latest in a number of coaches trying to bring stability to Iraq after they were banned twice by FIFA for organisational problems, was a little less positive about his team's chances.

Sidka told reporters: "First of all, the opening match against Iran is going to be a very tough.

"It's a derby, but we are well prepared. But as far as looking into the future, to the end of the tournament, I am not going to do that."

Source:
Agencies
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