Iraq's triumphant team arrived home on Friday for the first time since winning the Asian Cup to celebrate the victory, but heavy security meant few Iraqis were be able to join the party.
The national team, which hasn't played a home game in 17 years, landed at Baghdad's international airport from Jordan, where a small crowd had gathered and jubilant supporters lifted the heroes on their shoulders.
Maximum security was in place at the airport to guard against any kind of attack and journalists wanting to cover the team's arrival were banned from entering.
Iraqi officials, led by Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh, met the team upon their arrival, according to government representative Bassam Al Husseini.
Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki planned a welcome-home celebration in the Green Zone, home to the U.S. Embassy and the Iraqi government headquarters, Al Husseini said.
Several of the team's stars including team captain Younis Mahmoud, Nashat Akram and Hawar Mulla Mohammed – were not with them.
Mahmoud, a Sunni Arab who scored the winning goal in Iraq's 1-0 Asian Cup final win over Saudi Arabia, has said he feared for his life if he returned to Iraq to celebrate the stunning victory.
"I wish I could go back to Baghdad to celebrate, but who will secure my life?" the man-of-the-tournament told reporters in Jakarta.
"In Iraq you do not know who will kill you... I wish the Americans hadn't invaded Iraq and I hope we will get rid of them very soon" Mahmoud added.
Rings of security around the Green Zone prevented ordinary Iraqis from welcoming the team and although the weekly Friday curfew was lifted, few ventured out or were even invited to the celebrations.
The squad's Brazilian coach Jorvan Viera is also steering clear of Baghdad, holiday-bound for Morocco now that his stint with the Iraq squad is over and deluged with tempting job offers after overseeing the surprise victory.
"My mission with the Iraqi team ended with the Asian Cup victory. My biggest reward was the smiles on the faces of Iraqi people," he said.
But some extremists did not share the joy in the performance of the team; insurgent bombers attacked crowds of celebrating fans after Iraq's semi-final win over South Korea, killing at least 50 people.
Before even reaching Baghdad, the team's trip home was marked by lavish televised parties in Dubai and Amman, while the victory itself was celebrated as a rare moment of national solidarity by most of Iraq's war-weary population.
Iraqis hailed the multi-ethnic and multi-sect team as proof they could overcome the divisions that have led to civil war. Newspapers and TV commentators contrasted the players with the country's feuding and ineffective politicians.