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Saudi Soccer Team To Travel To Iraq For Rare International Match

A supporter of Iraq attends a soccer match against Brazil during the Rio 2016 Olympics in Brasilia in August 2016.

Saudi Arabia’s soccer squad will travel to Iraq for the first match between the two countries’ teams in nearly 40 years.

With the match, scheduled for the city of Basra on February 28, Iraq hopes to increase its chances of getting a ban on home matches lifted by FIFA, world soccer's governing body.

Saudi Arabia has qualified for the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia.

Iraq has not played full international matches at home since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, which sparked an international embargo.

The ban has mainly remained in place even after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.

It was lifted briefly in 2012 for a match between Iraq and Jordan in the Iraqi Kurdish capital, Irbil, but a power outage during the competition led FIFA to quickly reinstate the ban.

With the apparent victory over Islamic State (IS) militants late last year, FIFA again has relaxed the ban to allow for international friendly matches in Irbil, Basra, and Karbala.

Iraqi Sports and Youth Minister Abdulhussein Abttan told the AFP news agency that “I hope that this match will inspire other national teams to visit Iraq, which will help support our case for a total lifting of FIFA's ban on matches in our stadiums."

“The presence of the Saudi team in Iraq means a lot to us,” he said.

FIFA is expected to consider further easing or lifting the ban in March.

Based on reporting by AFP and Rudaw