The score did not matter so much — well, it mattered some. More important was that Iraq’s itinerant national soccer team, displaced for years by war, finally returned to Baghdad on Monday night to play a home match at home.
In a dusty summer swelter, tens of thousands of Iraqis poured into Baghdad’s shabby Shaab Stadium and for the first time since 2002 filled it with a cacophony of clapping, clanging, chanting and cheering for the one thing that unifies Iraq more than any other.
“Iraq! Iraq!” they chanted hours before the match, the stadium filled past capacity and genuinely festive like nothing Baghdad had experienced in years…
In a sign that politics infects even soccer, the crowd on Monday night occasionally broke into chants of “Death to Israel” and “Death to America.”