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Tragedy and joy in this week's Middle East football Open in fullscreen

Uri Levy

Tragedy and joy in this week's Middle East football

Al-Shorta is aiming to snatch the Iraqi championship title this season [AFP]

Date of publication: 23 February, 2018

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Iraqi football, as with football across the whole region, is full of amazing stories, many of them are tragic, but others are hopeful and reviving, writes Uri Levy
In football, there are times when the game becomes secondary, in favour of a bigger story that takes place on the field. These events connect the game itself with a bigger cause or a personal story.

Last Thursday, Naft Maysan hosted Al-Shorta for an Iraqi Premier League match, at the brand new stadium in Al-Amarah. Al-Shorta is aiming to snatch the Iraqi championship title this season after a period of mediocrity, and it seemed that nothing but a victory for the Baghdad-based club was even an option.

Naft Maysan's goalkeeper, Alaa Ahmed, had a fantastic game that day, saving his teammates from conceding at least six times, while helping his club to finish in a respectable draw (1-1) against one of the league's top sides

Ahmed played the whole match without telling his teammates one important thing. He kept quiet from arriving to the club in the morning of matchday, and all through warm up.

He swallowed his tongue during the whole 90 minutes and the 10 minutes break.

Alaa Ahmed told no-one around him that his son had died just a day before, due to a medical issue.

After the game, he couldn't hold back his emotions and broke down in tears. It was hard to watch.

The story of Alaa went viral worldwide, eliciting warm responses and condolences from the global football family. His photos were published almost everywhere, and the touching story was heard by millions of football fans. 

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This story encompasses so much of what the game football means for its fans worldwide.

It is exactly where the love for football and football as a game clashes directly with real life, and the responses have shown it.

The tragedy also highlighted another phenomenon.

Iraqi football is full of amazing stories, many of them are tragic, but others are hopeful and reviving. These stories are taking place every week. Iraq is a football-holic country, with a rich football history at Middle Eastern levels.

At the same time, Iraq has gone through so much in recent years. And yet, the security, economic and political issues cannot hold back the passion for football among Iraqi people. The opposite is true. It enhances it.

This holds true for other places in the Middle East - in Lebanon, Syria and Palestine - as well as across Africa, Asia, Latin America, all places far from the big money of  the English Premier League, UEFA Champions League or summer tournaments in the United States.

It is a shame that the football community is so focused on these scenarios only. Maybe the real culture and character of the region's society can yet be seen by more Western audiences. In the meantime, all our thoughts are with Alaa Ahmed and his family.

Uri Levy runs the popular football blog BabaGol, which covers football and politics focusing on the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter, and read his blog here

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