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Iraqi footballers win on return

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Victory for Iraq in first home match for seven years

The Iraqi football team has celebrated a victory in the first international football match to be held in Iraq since the US-led invasion of 2003.

The final score in the match played in the northern town of Irbil against a Palestinian team was 3-0.

The game has been hailed as a symbol of the promise of better times ahead for Iraq, and players released a number of white doves before kick-off.

The last time Iraq played at home was in 2002 in a 2-1 win over Syria.

Since then the team - one of the best in the Asian region - has led a nomadic existence.

Neil Arun, the Iraq editor for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) who was at the game in Irbil, said many football fans had travelled from southern and central Iraq to watch the match.

He told the BBC that some fans believe violence in the country has effectively prevented football from being played, but that the match has brought an end to that.

They hope the match will be a sign to countries around the world that if Palestinians can travel to Iraq to play football, so can they, said Mr Arun.

Good news

Iraq celebrated in 2007 when its players won a notable victory in the Asian Cup tournament, beating Saudi Arabia in the final by one goal to nil.

The players have since struggled to rediscover that championship-winning form, although they put in a creditable performance in the recent Confederations Cup in South Africa.

During that competition, which pits the champion nation from each continent against each other, Iraq drew with New Zealand and South Africa - the hosts of the upcoming 2010 World Cup - and lost narrowly to European Champions Spain.

Nevertheless, the BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse in Baghdad says a win at home is a rare and welcome good news story.

The Palestinian players are themselves no strangers to conflict.

But the very fact the game took place inside Iraq, speaks of a country desperately trying to move beyond violence and insecurity, our correspondent says.



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