Last Updated: 2019-01-09
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BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan 9 (NNN-NINA) - On a chilly Tuesday evening, hundreds of Iraqi football fans gathered in front of a giant TV screen in Baghdad, to watch the players of the Iraqi national team in its first match with Vietnam at the AFC Asian Cup 2019.

Hours prior to kick-off, hundreds of football fans flocked into the patio of Babylon Mall, a shopping centre in the heart of the upscale neighbourhood of al-Mansour in western Baghdad, to follow the match in Abu Dhabi, where the tournament is held.

The fans were waving Iraqi flags and singing the national anthem as they hoped to see a brave display that emulates the heroic performance as champions of the 2007 Asian Cup.

Ahmed Hussam, organiser of the event in the mall, said, "We have been preparing for this event for a week. We want to give Iraqis the chance to see their local heroes and share happiness among football fans. We want to send a message to the world that all Iraqis are united behind the national team."

The first half of the match ended with a 2-1 lead for the Vietnamese, a disappointing result for the Iraqi footballers, also known as Lions of Mesopotamia.

Many of the fans in Baghdad were shaking their heads in disbelief, especially when defender, Ali Faez, panicks under pressure of a Vietnamese attack and clumsily back-heeled the ball past the goalkeeper, Jalal Hassan.

However, the second half was different, as the Iraqi footballers' ability to bounce back was manifested in an unyielding effort in Abu-Dhabi, and a fiery atmosphere from the fans in Baghdad, who echoed the chants of their counterparts on the stands of the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi.

In the 60th minute, Humam Tariq sent a powerful shot with his right foot to put his team on level terms. In Baghdad, the patio was buzzing with excitement.

The Iraqi fans were hoping that their idolised heroes will respond at the nick of time and respond with style.

In the 90th minute, the Iraqi team was awarded a free-kick just outside the 18-yard box, and Ali Adnan was up to it.

The Italian Atalanta star sent a stunning curling shot above the wall and into the top corner of the Vietnamese net, scoring the third-goal and securing the first three-points for Iraq in the tournament.

In Baghdad, beatific fans were dancing and singing with tears of happiness coming out of their eyes.

Over the past fifteen-years, the Iraqi national team have brought happiness into the lives of millions of Iraqis by achieving remarkable and unexpected successes.

In the years after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Iraq was drowning into a ferocious sectarian strife, but a glimpse of hope appeared when the Lions of Mesopotamia record their biggest accomplishment in the history of Iraq's football by winning the 2007 Asian Cup in Jakarta.

The monumental triumph served in re-uniting the Iraqi factions at a time when extremist groups were terrorising local communities by carrying out reprisal kidnappings and killings.

"Football brings joy and unites the people of Iraq. In 2007, the country was drowning in sectarianism and football united us," said Yousif Ali, an engineering student.

Iraq will now face Yemen on Jan 12, at the Sharjah Stadium in the United Arab Emirates, and the fans will gather again, hoping for another win to secure qualification before the highly-anticipated classic clash against Iran, in the last match of the group stages.

Iraq join Iran with three points, after the Iranians won their match against Yemen 5-0 on Monday.-- NNN-NINA