The Lions of Mesopotamia


This page is a short overview of the history of the Iraq national team and its home stadium. For more information about the team's history, you can visit the following pages:

The Iraq Football Association was founded on 8 October 1948, and they joined FIFA in 1950. Between 1950 and 1957, the Iraqi national team played various unofficial games, until they played their first official FIFA 'A' international game on 19 October 1957 against Morocco in the 1957 Pan Arab Games. The match finished in a 3-3 stalemate and Iraq's first ever goal was scored by a man who would soon become one of Iraqi football's true legends: Ammo Baba.

Iraq's first successes came in the 1960s under the captaincy of legendary defender Abid Kadhim. They won the 1964 Arab Cup, retained their title two years later in Baghdad, and then won the 1967 Tripoli Fair Tournament. In 1976 they reached the semi-finals of the AFC Asian Cup for the first time, and three years later they hosted and won the Arabian Gulf Cup.

Iraq pose for a team photo in 1973, captained by defender Abid Kadhim

The 1980s was one of the most successful eras in the history of the Iraq national team in terms of competition successes. The first half of the decade saw them win the Merdeka Tournament, the Asian Games gold medal, the Arabian Gulf Cup, the Merlion Cup, the Arab Cup and the Pan Arab Games gold medal, and the second half of the decade saw Iraq participate in the FIFA World Cup finals for the first and only time to date. They lost all three games by one goal, and should have drawn their opening game had it not been for a poor refereeing decision. To read more about Iraq's historic participation in the 1986 FIFA World Cup, click here.

Later in the 1980s, Iraq won even more tournaments including the 1988 Arabian Gulf Cup, the 1988 Arab Cup and the 1989 Peace and Friendship Cup. Many of these successes were largely thanks to the goalscoring efforts of Hussein Saeed (78 international goals in total) and Ahmed Radhi (62 international goals in total), Iraq's two all-time top goalscorers.

Iraq's Natiq Hashim advances with the ball during Iraq's first ever FIFA World Cup match, against Paraguay in 1986

The 1990s was a more uneventful decade in the team's history, as they were banned from playing in many tournaments due to the invasion of Kuwait in 1991. 1992 saw Iraq record their biggest ever win, a 13-0 demolition of Ethiopia, and Iraq won a number of friendly cups during the '90's including the 1995 Nehru Cup, 1995 Merdeka Tournament, 1997 Nehru Cup and 1999 International Friendship Cup.

The year 2000 saw the birth of the Golden Generation as Iraq won the 2000 AFC Youth Championship to qualify for the 2001 FIFA World Youth Championship. That team (including the likes of Noor Sabri, Bassim Abbas, Nashat Akram, Hawar Mulla Mohammed and Emad Mohammed) went on to form the bulk of the national team for the next ten years. Iraq won the WAFF Championship for the first time in 2002 and won the 2003 Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Friendship Cup (with Younis Mahmoud scoring in the final of both tournaments) as well as winning the 2003 Peace Cup hosted in Australia.

The team qualified for the 2004 Athens Olympics and exceeded all expectations by finishing in an admirable fourth place despite all the difficulties the players faced in terms of facilities and travel. To read more about Iraq's amazing journey in Athens (which included a 4-2 win over Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal), click here. A year later, Iraq participated in the West Asian Games for the first time and they won the tournament by overcoming Syria on penalties in the final. To read about Iraq's successful West Asian Games adventure, click here.

Captain Razzaq Farhan receiving the 2005 West Asian Games trophy after a penalty shootout win over Syria

2007 saw the greatest achievement in the history of sport in Iraq. Despite not being able to train in their own country, facing difficulties in travel due to financial and passport difficulties, not having enough kits to last the tournament, most of the players losing family members in the war back home, manager Jorvan Vieira only being in charge for two months and only winning two of their eight pre-tournament friendlies (both against weak opposition), Iraq achieved the unthinkable and became the Kings of Asia by winning the AFC Asian Cup.

Their journey was an incredible one that included a thumping 3-1 victory over tournament favourites Australia, a nerve-wracking penalty shootout win over giants South Korea and a memorable 1-0 win in the final against Saudi Arabia thanks to a header from the tournament's joint top scorer and MVP, Younis Mahmoud. The team helped to unite Iraqi people of all different backgrounds together in celebration and achieved praise from media, fans and politicians all over the world. To read more about Iraq's greatest sporting achievement, click here.

The fairytale is complete. The team without a home base, the team without a coach until two months ago, the team left waiting in a hotel lobby for hours, the team who struggled to travel because of their passports... the team without hope has brought joy to its fractured nation! Football succeeds, perhaps you could say, where politics has failed. Iraq are champions of Asia - unbelievable!

Simon Hill - Fox Sports commentator

Although Iraq were the champions of Asia, they failed to qualify for the final round of 2010 World Cup qualifiers when they fell to a controversial 1-0 defeat to Qatar, who had in fact fielded an ineligible player in the game but somehow managed to escape punishment. 2009 saw Iraq participate in the FIFA Confederations Cup for the first time ever, representing the AFC as the continent's champions. A respectable 1-0 defeat to eventual world champions Spain was sandwiched between 0-0 draws with South Africa and New Zealand as Iraq were knocked out in the group stage. To read more about their historic Confederations Cup appearance, click here. That year, Iraq also won the UAE International Cup by defeating Azerbaijan and tournament hosts UAE.

Iraq's "Golden Generation" team celebrate winning the AFC Asian Cup on 29 July 2007

Iraq attempted to defend their Asian Cup title in 2011 but were knocked out by non-Asian side Australia in the quarter-finals. Iraq did manage to reach the final round of 2014 World Cup qualifiers (unlike last time) but they finished rock-bottom of their group and therefore failed to qualify again. Iraqi football seemed to be on a downward spiral after these qualifiers as results got worse and worse, but things changed when the 2015 Asian Cup came around. Under Radhi Shenaishil's guidance, Iraq reached the semi-finals of the competition by knocking out Iran on penalties, largely thanks to more heroics from the legendary Younis Mahmoud. They eventually finished fourth in the tournament.

Younis Mahmoud continued to be Iraq's most important player after the tournament as the famous striker dragged Iraq to the final round of 2018 World Cup qualifiers (which also qualified them for the 2019 Asian Cup) by scoring goals against Chinese Taipei (twice), Thailand and Vietnam. Also, Iraq managed to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics, but they were knocked out at the group stage after drawing all three of their games (although one of the draws was a great result considering it was against Neymar's Brazil who ended up winning the gold medal).

Younis Mahmoud finally retired from international football on 23 August 2016 as Iraq's most-capped player ever and as one of Asia's greatest ever players. Radhi Shenaishil was reappointed as Iraq manager in April 2016 but a string of World Cup qualifying defeats led to him being sacked. He was replaced by Basim Qasim and Iraq began to improve, picking up seven points from nine in their last three qualifying games but it was too little, too late for the Lions as they failed to qualify.

Iraq pose for a team photo before their match with Palestine at the 2015 Asian Cup

Home Stadium

1957-1966: Al-Kashafa Stadium, Baghdad

1966-2013: Al-Shaab Stadium, Baghdad

2013-present: Basra International Stadium, Basra

Note: Iraq are currently only allowed to play competitive home matches in the cities of Basra, Karbala and Erbil, meaning home games are also occasionally played at Karbala Olympic Stadium and at Franso Hariri Stadium.

  • Al-Kashafa Stadium
    Al-Kashafa Stadium
  • Al-Shaab Stadium
    Al-Shaab Stadium
  • Basra International Stadium from the outside
    Basra International Stadium from the outside
  • Basra International Stadium from the inside
    Basra International Stadium from the inside
Al-Kashafa Stadium
Al-Kashafa Stadium