The tournament is taking place in a number of arenas across the former Persian state, as teams from across the Arab world battle it out for the region’s ultimate trophy. After a dazzling opening ceremony featuring gunfire, parades of military hardware and a show of phosphorous lighting up the night sky, the teams marched in waving flags and singing patriotic songs before the world’s news media.
In its opening game, Iraq and its ‘Barmy Army’ clashed with The Islamic State of Iraq resulting in an humiliating defeat for the home team; their players caught with their eye off the ball, leaving an ‘open goal’ for the underdogs. ISIS will now face strong opposition from the Kurds in the next round.
Neighbouring Iran will now also enter the competition, keen to take advantage of the home team’s early knock-out and their familiarity with Iraqi turf. Despite a complete shake-up in 1979, the Iranian team never managed to gain any advantage against their neighbours, with drawn-out matches and penalty shoot-outs inevitably ending in nil-nil draws.
There is anticipation about where this leaves the Americans, who are likely to take on ISIS later, but who have been slammed for being ‘out of shape’ against the fiery Arab teams. Despite wins in ’91 and ’03, the American squad is now commonly seen as outsiders, heavily reliant on decisions from the touchline and with no midfield presence at all.
Often seen as the ‘wild card’, Al Qaeda are expected to attempt a resurgence in later rounds, keen to regain their reputation as master tacticians, and, despite recent absence from the ‘big league’, still commanding a devoted fanbase.
However, the tournament has already received criticism of its UN referees for their split decisions, failure to maintain order, and for ignoring smoke bombs thrown onto the pitch by Syrian supporters.