Iraqi football legend Ahmad Radhi dies after battling COVID-19

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Iraqi football legend Ahmed Radhi has died as a result of complications after he was diagnosed with COVID-19, the highly infectious respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, the Iraqi health ministry has said.

Radhi, 56, had been hospitalised last week in Baghdad after testing positive for the virus but had checked out on Thursday after his condition improved.

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He relapsed a few hours later and was readmitted to the hospital. He died early on Sunday.

Iraqis joined a funeral procession to honour the former footballer in the Iraqi capital on Sunday morning. 

In video footage released on local media outlets, dozens of men were seen gathered around an ambulance, chanting "There is no God but Allah" in Arabic. Others were seen weeping in sadness as they walked alongside the vehicle shortly before his body was laid to rest.

— العراق سبورت (@IrqSport) June 21, 2020 'Hard to breathe'

In a video reportedly from his hospital bed on Saturday, Radhi could be seen in a green jersey struggling to breathe as medics in full protective gear try to treat him.

"Sometimes it's hard to breathe but that's normal," he could be heard telling the medical team, his voice strained.

"Ahmed Radhi passed away wearing the green jersey, which he loved so much that we loved him in it," said Iraqi premier Mustafa al-Kadhemi.

FIFA, or the International Federation of Association Football, paid tribute to Radhi.

In a tweet, the international body that governs, manages and promotes association football, listed some of Radhi's achievements throughout his career, adding: "Football lost a legend today. RIP Ahmed Radhi."

🇮🇶 Scorer of Iraq’s only #WorldCup goal
🌏 Voted Asia’s best player in 1988
⚽️ 62 goals in 121 internationals
📗 9th on the IFFHS’s Asian Player of the Century ranking

Football lost a legend today. RIP Ahmed Radhi pic.twitter.com/MB2PtCm14u

— FIFA.com (@FIFAcom) June 21, 2020

The footballer scored what remains Iraq's only World Cup finals goal in 1986 against Belgium.

Radhi, a striker, led Iraq to victory in the Gulf Cups of 1984 and 1988, when he was voted Asian footballer of the year.

In the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, he scored against Belgium but Iraq lost the match 1-2 and exited the tournament in the group stage without a point.

Radhi fled Iraq in 2006 after its Olympic Committee head was kidnapped during the height of the sectarian violence that followed the US-led invasion of 2003.

He moved with his family to the Jordanian capital Amman but returned to Iraq in 2007 for a career in politics, replacing a member of parliament who defected to join the fighting raging across the country.

He was an unsuccessful candidate in the 2014 and 2018 elections with the National Alliance, a coalition of Sunni and Shia figures.

In this file photo taken on April 23, 2018 shows the campaign poster of Ahmed Radhi, a former Iraqi footballer, hanging in a street in Baghdad. Iraqi football legend Ahmed Radhi died on June 21, 2020

This photo, taken on April 23, 2018, shows the campaign poster of Ahmed Radhi in a street in Baghdad [File: Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP]

His death left football fans in grief in Iraq and the region.

"With great sadness and sorrow, we mourn our lifelong companion, our fans' ardent star, the unrivalled athlete and son of Iraq, Ahmed Radhi," said Adnan Darjal, Iraq's new sport minister and former footballer.

"Farewell, Abu Faisal, goodbye to my brother Ahmed Radhi," wrote former star and Iraqi League President Hussein Saeed.

The director of Jordan's Football Association Ali al-Hussein said the world had lost "a sports star whom we cherish and are proud of".

Iraq has registered nearly 30,000 cases of the coronavirus and deaths topped 1,000 earlier this week.

The country's health system - worn down by years of conflict and insufficient maintenance - has been overwhelmed by the spiking numbers.

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