Over the last year or so, the Iraqi national football team has reached impossible heights and narrowly avoided FIFA decertification. The latter possibility–that Iraq would be banned from competing for a berth in the 2010 World Cup field–angered the al-Maliki government and saddened the Iraqi people. As Najah Nasser, a Baghdad engineer, told the New York Times, soccer is “the only relief for us.”
Once FIFA voted to lift the suspension, alive again was Iraq’s bid to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986. Over the weekend, however, Iraq suffered a stunning 1-Nil loss to Qatar, which means they won’t be a part of the 2010 fray in South Africa.
That’s grim news. For almost any country other than the U.S., a critical loss by the national soccer team is a mortal blow. For battered, sundered Iraqis, though, it’s something more than that. In Iraq, distractions are precious; unifying distractions–such as the Asia Cup triumph last year–have the potential to save lives. It was then that warring Sunnis and Shiites, for a fugitive time, tabled their hatreds and shared a common glory. So it’s a shame that the “Lions of Mesopotamia” don’t have another one in them.
Here’s to better days on the pitch …