FIFA weighs letting Iraq host World Cup qualifiers
ZURICH (AP) — FIFA will decide soon if Iraq is safe enough to host 2014 World Cup qualifying games again. The country has been barred from holding home games since last September.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter led a meeting Friday with an Iraqi delegation, including national team coach Zico. The governing body said in a statement "the matter will be evaluated in due course and will be based exclusively on security considerations."
Iraq is scheduled to host Oman on June 12 after beginning the next phase of the Asian qualifying tournament on June 3.
FIFA banned Iraq from hosting qualifiers for the World Cup and 2012 Olympics. The decision was made for security reasons and after a stadium power outage in the Kurdish city of Irbil during a World Cup qualifier against Jordan in September.
Iraq then played — and won — five straight matches on the road to advance from a group that included China and Singapore. Its subsequent "home" matches were played in neutral Doha, Qatar.
Iraq's current five-team group also includes Australia and Japan, which are favored to claim the two automatic places in the 2014 lineup in Brazil. Iraq is scheduled to host Australia on Oct. 16, Jordan on Nov. 14 and Japan on June 11, 2013.
The Iraqi Football Association, led in Zurich by its president, Najeh Hamoud, has expressed hopes of returning to play in Baghdad, and inviting Blatter to the country. Iraq hasn't played in Baghdad since 2009 and a return to Irbil seems more likely.
Blatter posted positive messages about Iraq on his Twitter account after the meeting, recalling that he saw the national team win the 2007 Asian Cup final played in Indonesia.
"I saw the joy and hope it brought to the Iraqi people, showing once more the impact football can have on society," Blatter wrote Friday. "Despite the challenges faced by the country, the ball has kept rolling in Iraq, where the league has continued to be played."
Iraq has qualified once for the World Cup, losing all three matches in 1986 to host Mexico, Belgium and Paraguay.