The UAE’s 2022 World Cup qualifier with Iraq will take place next month in Baghdad after Fifa lifted its long-time ban on matches being played in the country.
The qualifier, the penultimate match day of the final round, was scheduled to be staged in either Amman, Jordan, or Qatar, because of security concerns in Iraq.
On Sunday, Adnan Dirjal, Minister of Youth and Sport and also president of the Iraqi Football Association, said: "Fifa officially agreed to holding a match between our national team and the Emirati side at Al Madina Stadium.”
Ahmed Al Moussaoui, spokesman for the Iraqi Football Association, told AFP that, "We received on Sunday an official notification from Fifa confirming the lifting of the ban for all Iraqi stadiums," while adding that, "In the future we can host matches either in Al Madina Stadium” or other stadiums in the capital.
In January, Baghdad's 32,000-seat Al Madina Stadium hosted a friendly between Iraq and Uganda - the first international match in the capital, according to Fifa, since Liberia visited in 2013, when the ban took effect.
Iraq’s qualifier against the UAE represents a pivotal encounter in the race for the play-off spot in Group A. At present, the UAE sit in that position – third in the standings – three points above fourth-placed Lebanon and four ahead of Iraq in fifth. The final set of fixtures will be played on March 29.
Group leaders Iran and second-placed South Korea have already booked their place at the November-December tournament in Qatar. The team that finishes third in Group A goes on to meet the third-placed side in Group B, before the winner of that contests the intercontinental play-off for a spot at the World Cup. The play-offs take place in Qatar in June.
Fifa said it had briefly lifted Iraq's ban in 2019 for a World Cup qualifier between their national team and Hong Kong, but imposed it once more shortly afterwards.
Iraq's national and club sides have had to play international home games abroad, with their four “home” matches in this phase of World Cup qualification held in Doha.
Iraq has qualified only once for the World Cup, in 1986.