Iraq wins first home match since 2003 invasion

ARBIL: Iraq won the first international football match in the country since the US-led invasion in 2003, beating the Palestinian national football team 3-0 in a friendly on Friday.

The opening goal in the game at Francois Hariri stadium in the northern city of Arbil, in Iraq's autonomous region of Kurdistan, was let in by Palestinian player Hussam Fadi in the 20th minute.

Yunus Mahmud struck Iraq's second in the 55th minute and Luay Falah completed Iraq's evening with a 90th minute goal.

"This match is the first step towards ending the ban imposed by FIFA on international matches in Iraq because of the situation our country was going through," Najih Hmud, vice-president of the Iraqi football association, said when the Arbil fixture was announced.

The Asian Football Confederation and FIFA, football's world governing body, both gave their approval for the game.

"The match is an expression of the Palestinian commitment to breaking the siege of Iraq and to celebrating with Iraqis the departure of American forces from Iraqi cities," Jibril Rajub, head of the Palestinian football association told reporters.

The two sides will meet again on Monday in Baghdad's al-Shaab stadium.

The Iraqi national team won the Asian Cup in 2007 but last month, under new Serbian coach Bora Milutinovic, they crashed out of the Confederations Cup in South Africa without scoring a single goal.

After visiting Iraq the Palestinian team will head to China for a friendly on July 18.

Rajub, who gained a reputation for toughness as chief of the Palestinian Authority's feared preventive security agency, has been actively promoting football since becoming federation head in May 2008.

Last year under his leadership the federation financed the construction of a stadium in the West Bank town of Al-Ram outside Jerusalem and the team played its first ever home match against Jordan in October.

Palestine has been affiliated to FIFA since 1998, even though the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip do not have statehood. Games are broadcast to the Arab world by the Saudi-owned ART television network.