Fresh sod had been carefully mowed in the new stadium. Special trains carried thousands of fans on the 10-hour journey from Baghdad. Intelligence agents had even coached the team’s official cheerleader to make the visiting team feel welcome.
But when the Iraqi national soccer team played its first home game against Saudi Arabia in almost 40 years, diplomatic niceties vanished as soon as the Iraqi team took the field.
“We hope the Saudis will feel comfortable in our town,” said Diah Taliq, a car mechanic who took off early from work to attend the match. “But that’s where our sympathy stops. On the field, we hope to crush them.”