The Iraqi World Cup kicked off today with an explosive opening ceremony and exciting first round clash between the host nation and rivals ISIS.
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. Festivities began with a dazzling opening ceremony featuring gunfire, parades of military hardware and a show of phosphorous lighting up the night sky. The teams then marched in waving flags and singing patriotic songs before the world's news media.
In its opening game, the Iraqi Army's clash with The Islamic State of Iraq resulted in an humiliating defeat for the home team; their players caught with their eye off the ball, leaving an 'open goal' for the insurgents. ISIS will now face 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 territory 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 the insurgents later, but who have been slammed for being 'out of shape' against the fiery equatorial teams. Despite wins in '91 and '03, the team is now commonly seen as outsiders, their role reduced to that of linesmen.
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 of smoke bombs thrown onto the pitch by Syrian supporters.