Iraq lift the Arabian Gulf Cup with victory over Oman

At least two people died and more than 60 were injured after a crush at Iraq’s Basra International Stadium hours before the Gulf Cup final in which Iraq were crowned champions.

The match went ahead despite Iraq’s state news agency confirming one person had died and 60 were injured, while provincial health authorities said a young female doctor had also died.

The Arab Gulf Football Federation announced the match would go ahead as scheduled, and Iraq claimed the trophy after a close encounter.

Iraq opened the scoring through midfielder Ibrahim Bayesh after 24 minutes. Ten minutes into added time Omani midfielder Salaah Al Yahyaei levelled from a penalty, sending the match into extra time. Midfielder Amjad Attwan put Iraq ahead after 116 minutes with another penalty, but three minutes later Omani striker Omar Al Malki levelled again with a header. Iraqi defender Manaf Younis scored the winning goal two minutes into added time.

Thousands of fans had walked to the 65,000-capacity stadium on Thursday morning before the match, with many prevented from entering. A video posted on social media, apparently from the scene, showed fans crying for help as others were pushed along by the moving crowd.

Authorities later opened the gates of the stadium to relieve the pressure, allowing ticket holders to enter. Later they closed all gates but one, which was kept open for Omani fans.

They also opened nearby Al Minaa Stadium, which has a 30,000-seat capacity, for fans to watch the game on screens. Calm soon returned to the area.

“After consultations with concerned parties in sultanate of Oman and to ensure the safety of the Omani citizens, and as a support to the brothers in the Republic of Iraq to make the final match a success, it has been decided to bring back fans who are still at Basra International Airport,” the Oman Football Federation said earlier. It urged Omani fans still outside the stadium not to enter, but later it allowed fans to head to the stadium after securing their seats.

Meanwhile, Oman Air cancelled at least one flight to Basra.

The deadly incident came hours after the Governor of Basra, Asaad Al Eidani, called on fans not to gather outside the stadium, especially those without tickets. “This could lead to a stampede and [the] perfect image of our country, hosting this event, could be tarnished only a few hours before the final ceremony,” Mr Al Eidani said late on Wednesday. “We call upon you to abide to security forces guidelines to ensure the safety of the citizens,” he said, adding that dozens of big screens had been set up around the city for those without tickets.

Mr Al Eidani warned fans that the Arab Gulf Cup Football Federation may be forced to move the match to another venue outside Iraq if measures were not taken to stop such incidents, prompting many of them to withdraw.

At the end of the match, Iraqi players hugged each other as they cried. The fans shouted: “Long live Iraq” and “Oh Iraq, we are ready to sacrifice ourselves for you.”

Outside the stadium and in Baghdad, fireworks lit up the sky while some shot into the air live ammunition despite warning from Iraqi Interior Ministry. Thousands of fans poured onto the streets after the match, waiving Iraqi flag and dancing. Cars were honking in rhythmic succession as fans cheered: “Go, go the Lions of Mesopotamia.”

“That’s not only a precious triumph, but a precious joy that we need so much and waited for a long time,” Abbas Mohammed said, driving his car in a Baghdad street while hoisting the Iraqi flag. “It’s a bittersweet achievement,” said Ali Yassir, standing nearby. “Unfortunately, the day started with a tragedy that made all of us sad. That trophy is for those who lost their lives or were wounded while trying to attend the match.

Mr Al Sudani congratulated the Iraq team. He also thanked those who were behind making the tournament a success.


The National

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