FIFA ponder Iraq qualifiers ban

Sepp Blatter meets with Iraq delegation to decide whether to lift hosting ban on World Cup and Olympic qualifiers.

    Iraq are due to host two Asian qualifiers in June, against Oman and Jordan [GETTY]

    FIFA will decide soon if Iraq is safe enough to host 2014 World Cup qualifying matches again.

    FIFA President Sepp Blatter led a meeting on Friday with an Iraqi delegation, including national team coach Zico, which has been barred from staging matches on home soil since last September.

    "The decision on whether Iraq will be able to play home matches for the 2014 World Cup qualifiers in their country has not yet been made,'' FIFA said in a statement.

    "The matter will be evaluated in due course, and will be based exclusively on security considerations.''

    Iraq are scheduled to host Oman on June 12, after beginning the next phase of the Asian qualifying tournament away to Jordan on June 3.

    Security concerns

    FIFA banned Iraq from hosting qualifiers for the World Cup and 2012 Olympics for security reasons, and after a stadium power outage in the Kurdish city of Irbil during a World Cup qualifier against Jordan in September.

    Iraq then played - and won - five straight matches on the road to advance from a group which also included China and Singapore.

    Their subsequent "home'' matches were played in neutral Doha, Qatar.

    Iraq's current five-team group also includes Australia and Japan, who are favoured to claim the two automatic places in the 2014 line-up in Brazil.

    Iraq are scheduled to host Australia on October 16, Jordan on November 14 and Japan on June 11, 2013.

    The Iraqi Football Association, led in Zurich by its president Najeh Hamoud, has expressed hopes of returning to play matches in Baghdad, and inviting Blatter to the country, although a return to Irbil seems a more likely prospect.

    Blatter positive

    Iraq have not played in Baghdad since 2009.

    Blatter posted positive messages about Iraq on his Twitter account after the meeting, recalling that he saw the national team win the 2007 Asian Cup final played in Indonesia.

    "I saw the joy and hope it brought to the Iraqi people, showing once more the impact football can have on society,'' Blatter wrote Friday.

    "Despite the challenges faced by the country, the ball has kept rolling in Iraq, where the league has continued to be played.''

    Iraq have qualified once for the World Cup, losing all three matches at the 1986 finals against host nation Mexico, eventual semi-finalist Belgium and Paraguay.

    SOURCE: AP


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