Iraqis demand rematch following 'unfair' loss to Jordan in 2023 Asian Cup

Iraqis demand rematch following 'unfair' loss to Jordan in 2023 Asian Cup
Many Iraqi fans claim the Iranian-Australian referee Alireza Faghani's decision to send off striker Aymen Hussein came from a 'historical hatred' of Iraq.
4 min read
30 January, 2024
Aymen Hussein, was sent off by Faghani for "excessive goal celebrations" after the striker scored Iraq's second goal. [Photo from IFA official Facebook page]

Fans of the Iraqi national team are furious with the decision by Iranian-Australian referee Alireza Faghani to send off Aymen Hussein during the match with Jordan at the 2023 Asian Cup, which ultimately resulted in a loss and the end of "the Iraqi Lions" tenure in the tournament. 

The Iraqi national team bid farewell to the 2023 Asian Cup, organised by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), after losing to their Jordanian counterpart in the tournament's quarterfinals held in Qatar on Monday, with a score of two goals to three. The tournament will continue until 10 February. 

The Iraqi team suffered a setback when their striker and top scorer of the tournament, Aymen Hussein, was sent off by Faghani after receiving a second yellow card for "excessive goal celebrations" when the striker scored Iraq's second goal late in the match.

Under increasing pressure from Iraqi fans, the Iraq Football Association (IFA) has filed a formal complaint to the 2023 Asian Cup against "the unfair decision" by Faghani. Iraqi fans are calling for a rematch, accusing Faghani of having "historical hatred" towards the Iraqi national team. Calls for a rematch and wide condemnation of Faghani are trending on social media platforms, especially the X platform, previously known as Twitter. 

Iraq's head coach, Jesús Casas, a Spanish national, expressed that Hussein's red card had a "significant impact" on his team. He also mentioned his confusion regarding the differing treatment of the two celebrations by Faghani.

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"No time is identified for gaol celebrations by the players. The referee is not allowed to resume the game until the players end their celebrations. Celebrations by Jordan players lasted longer than those of the Iraqis; Iraqi players celebrated for one minute and 24 seconds while the Jordanian players celebrated for one minute and thirty seconds," Ahmed Sangawi, a Kurdish sports analyst, told The New Arab. "It is the first time I saw a player be sent off for goal celebrations. We have seen in the past that Messi provoked the referee in the World Cup but did not get a yellow card."

Sangawi argued that Hussein was sent off not for breaking any game rules but because the referee was biased against the Iraqi national team, pointing to the fact that this was "the fourth time Faghani caused Iraq to exit the Asian Cup".

Sangawi noted that Iraq filed a formal complaint to the AFC. However, he was pessimistic that the body would decide to hold a rematch between Iraq and Jordan.

"Currently, the Iraqi team is staying in Qatar waiting for the result of Iraq's complaint, but I think it is very difficult or even impossible for AFC to decide on a rematch because the Iraqi coach and players should have complained or left the stadium before the infamous referee ended the match," Sangawi said. 

The post-match press conference also witnessed tensions emerge as many Iraqi journalists stormed out, directing accusations and shouts at Iraq's head coach. Security and officials intervened, escorting the journalists away when some attempted to approach the coach.

Sangawi agreed that Iraqi journalists' behaviours towards Casas "was unacceptable" and stressed that coaches have the right not to answer all questions by journalists. 

He said more than 400 Iraqi journalists are in Qatar to cover the tournament, with most of them going outside the formal regulations due to the rampant corruption in Iraq.  

"We believe in fostering an environment where journalists can engage in their important work of covering Asian football with professionalism and mutual respect," the AFC said in a statement on Tuesday. "Accreditation is a privilege that comes with the responsibility to adhere to ethical standards, and those who violate these standards will face the consequences."

Many Iraqi fans have told TNA that the referee's decision was "unfair" because Faghani did not give a yellow card to Jordan's players after Yazan Al-Naimat's opening goal when they gathered in a circle on the field and mimicked eating as part of their celebration.

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Yet, when Hussein replicated the same celebration after scoring his goal, he was promptly sent off.

"Iraq had played pretty well. Unfortunately, I believe the referee's decision was overly strict. Given that Hussein had already received a yellow card in the first half, a warning would have been more appropriate," Rebwar Mohammed, a football fan from Sulaimaniyah, told TNA

On Tuesday in Doha, Adnan Dirjal, head of IFA, convened with the coaching staff of the Iraqi national team led by Coach Casas, hinting that Casas will remain in his position despite Iraq losing the 2023 Asian Cup.

In 2007, the Iraq national football team, amid a brutal foreign invasion, emerged victorious in the Asian Cup.

After decades of war, invasions, and instability, Iraq hosted the eight-nation Gulf Cup in January 2023 for the first time since 1979. 

The Iraqi national team secured its fourth Arab Gulf Cup title by defeating Oman 3-2 in an exhilarating final in 2023.

Born in Iran, Faghani migrated to Australia "for family reasons" in 2019 to officiate in the A-League, according to the AFC.