Hassanane Balal, founder of the Iraq Football Podcast spoke with the Iraq International News Agency on the topic of the significance of football in Iraq.
Why did you choose to focus on Iraqi football?
I noticed there was not enough coverage of football in Iraq when I started and following the 2007 Asian Cup win, I wanted more people to celebrate our success in the field, which could unite Iraqis within the country as well as abroad.
What is football culture like in Iraq?
Football is of huge significance in Iraq. The 2007 success of the Asian Cup brought more hope to Iraqi fans. When the Gulf Cup which was hosted in Basra, match tickets sold out even for youth teams, which is unusual even abroad in countries were football is also an important sport. Footballers in Iraq are treated like celebrities, and have responsibilities as such.
Which moment was of most significant in the history of Iraqi football?
It was for sure the 2007 Asian Cup, in which Iraq won. Following the turmoil in the country, Iraqis were happy to have a reason to celebrate. Because the team consists of a diverse mix of players, it is also cause for unity; there was definitely a decrease in sectarian division after our success in football. Hosting the Gulf Cup was also a huge achievement for us. It showed the stability of the region, and the team that was now under Casas’ management was performing well. The tournament attracted international attention, which boosted the economy through tourism.
Any last comments on future football prospects for Iraq?
Iraqi football is heading in the right direction, and I urge the fans to get involved. This can be a a way to learn and connect for people in Iraq as well as expats that want to feel closer to their country.
The U20 World Cup will begin soon in Argentina, where the Mesopotamian Lions will compete against Uruguay, Tunisia and England.
22 May Uruguay-Iraq (18:00 local time, La Plata Stadium)
25 May Iraq-Tunisia (18:00 local time, La Plata Stadium)
28 May Iraq-England (15:00 local time, Mendoza Stadium)
The Iraq Football Podcast can be found on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/IraqFootballPod