BAGHDAD: Iraqis celebrated on Thursday after world football governing body FIFA lifted the threat of a 12-month ban, clearing the way for the Asian champions to play a key World Cup qualifier against Australia this weekend.
Fans gathered around radios and television sets in their thousands to hear the news that FIFA had relented on its threat to supend Iraq from international competition after the government announced that an order dissolving the Iraqi Olympic Committee did not apply to the Iraqi Football Association.
Football is by far Iraq's most popular spectator sport and the national team's success in winning last year's Asian Cup in Indonesia provided a welcome surge of national pride in a country reeling from insurgent and sectarian violence.
Iraq need to salvage at least a point from the game to keep their hopes alive of advancing to the next stage of Asian qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.
They are currently bottom of their group with just a point while Australia lead with four points from two matches. China and Qatar are the group's other two teams.
But the omens are not good. Before heading to Australia on Tuesday for Sunday's game, Iraq played a warm-up match against Thailand which they lost 2-1.