On behalf of Iraq's beleaguered soccer community, Iraq's German soccer coach Bernd Stange received an award from FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, in Switzerland. The award was an acknowledgement of “the courage of Iraq’s footballers,” said Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s president. The 55-year-old trainer has been in charge of the Iraqi team for just over a year. Under his guidance, the Iraq national team reached its highest FIFA ranking in 15 years, qualifying for both the Asian championships and the 2004 Olympics. Stange signed a contract with the Iraqi team when Saddam Hussein was still in power in late 2002, unleashing a controversy back home in Germany, where he was accused of supporting a dictatorship. After collecting his award, Stange said he'd be returning to the ravaged country, telling
Reuters news agency that "this is the hardest job I've ever had in my life -- I've never had to work with such difficult conditions." Recently, Stange had criticized the U.S. government for failing to understand the importance of soccer as a instrument to return stability to Iraq.