Wednesday 24th January,
Again decision time. This time I opted for Saudi v Iraq as both teams had more support and the game was being played at the smaller stadium. I joined the 3,000 or so Iraqi’s and sat with an Iraqi who worked in the media. He pointed out that the police were scared and sure enough there did seem a heavy presence (It was only as I left the game that I saw police dressed in riot gear, hidden round a corner). He also said that they were confused by an Islamic country allowing men and women to mix freely, apparently Saddam introduced this some 20 years ago and they mingled happily together unlike the other Arabian countries where the women would not be welcome in such a situation.
There had been talk of both sides settling for the point they needed in this game, but the reality appeared to be that both sides were going all out to win. The Saudis got the break of the first goal and rarely looked in trouble. The score as it stood throughout the 90 minutes meant that both teams would go through.
My Iraqi friend explained to me that the writing on the Iraqi flag meant “God is big” (his words). Unfortunately today he wasn’t big enough to trouble the Saudi’s who dominated the game and ran out 1-0 winners. Just to make things even worse. Bahrain scored in the 91st minute and overtook Iraq on goals scored to qualify for the semis.
I checked later and found that the words on the Iraqi flag were as I suspected Allah Akbar, God is great. Apparently Saddam Hussain wrote the words on the flag after the Gulf War of 1991 in his own handwriting. When he was deposed in 2003, they couldn’t change the wording in fear of offending Muslims, but instead the wording was changed to a typical Arabic script.