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Will Iraq ever prosper? After FIFA hand out yet another home match ban

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Another huge setback for the Iraq national team was announced today, as FIFA have once again declared the Middle East nation is off-limits for international friendlies following a wave of deadly bombings.

It has been confirmed that soccer’s governing body has written to the Iraqi Football Association and confirmed “the suspension to authorize international friendly matches in the Iraqi territory.”

On Tuesday, the latest wave of attacks killed at least 49 people, mostly involving car bombs. Iraq has played just two exhibition games in Baghdad since FIFA lifted a ban in March that had applied since 2011. They most recently played at home on May 27, losing 1-0 to Liberia.

Iraq failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, finishing bottom of Group B after being forced to play their home games in Doha, Qatar.

Their next scheduled home match is an Asian Cup qualifier in October against Saudi Arabia, so unless the situation calms down the national team will likely play on foreign soil once more.

However despite the doom and gloom of being banned from playing in their own country, the future of Iraqi soccer is looking brighter than ever.

Take a look at their U-20 side.

One of the biggest surprise packages of the U-20 World Cup in Turkey, Iraq have taken the competition by storm. They defeated Egypt and Chile on their way to winning Group E, and the young Iraqi’s then beat a much favored Paraguay in the knockout stages to set up a quarterfinal clash with South Korea on Sunday.

All of their players compete in Iraq and despite all the troubles, the nation is producing an incredibly strong youth side.That can only bode well for their future as a soccer nation.

Current national team stars Ali Rehema, Nashat Akram and Younis Mahmoud provide a strong core. But the average age of the national team is creeping upwards, so expect to see plenty of the U-20 World Cup stars involved in the coming years.

Looking at other countries in similar situations, one region to look to for inspiration could be the Balkans. With many of the newly formed countries performing superbly after being locked in war and tyranny for many years, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia have all produced incredible teams. Currently all four sit in the world’s top 50, with Croatia in eighth and Bosnia in 14th and many are on course to reach World Cup 2014.

Is that just a coincidence? Or does the national pride of these nations uprising from terrible atrocities and wars help young soccer players to find solace in playing the game they love? I am not here to try and answer that.

But what I do know is that Iraq have managed to produce a fine crop of talented soccer players. Can they follow in the footsteps of other troubled nations and reach the World Cup and break into the top 20 in the world?

First things first, once it is safe to do so, their home games must return to their home nation. When that will be, nobody knows.

FA in “advanced talks” with Tottenham over move to Wembley

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 04:  An aerial view of Wembley Stadium on November 4, 2009 in London, England. The UK's capital city is home to an population of over 7.5 million people, it has the world's oldest and most extensive underground train network and it's airspace is the busiest of any city.  (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
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Tottenham Hotspur look set to play at Wembley Stadium while White Hart Lane is reconstructed.

Spurs will be without a stadium for the entire 2017-18 campaign as their current home will be demolished and a new $600 million stadium holding 61,000 will be built in its place.

[ MORE: Mourinho forced to wait? ]

The Chairman of the English FA, Greg Dyke, believes a deal with Spurs will get over the line soon and he also claims they Spurs are also in talks about playing their UEFA Champions League games at the 90,000 capacity stadium next season.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ]  

Speaking on Sky Sports News in the UK on Thursday, Dyke revealed that talks with Tottenham were at an advanced stage.

“We’re in discussions with Tottenham that they should come in for a full season when they’re building their new stadium, and we are a long way down the path on reaching agreement,” Dyke confirmed.

“I think there are some discussions about whether they will play Champions League games at Wembley next year but I don’t know much about that. But on the full season (2017-18), I think we’re quite close to a deal.”

So, as expected, Spurs will likely pay the FA a fee to rent the stadium — the FA then plan to reinvest it at the grassroots level — and play temporarily away from White Hart Lane.

That’s pretty standard and the only issue will be if Chelsea’s plans to renovate Stamford Bridge go ahead (the Blues are also looking to temporarily relocate to Wembley) but they’ll likely use it for three seasons and may not need to until 2018-19, such is the magnitude of their stadium project.

However, the real juicy bit of news here was that Spurs is looking to host Champions League games at Wembley next season.

With Mauricio Pochettino‘s men missing out on the title to Leicester, they are still guaranteed a spot in next seasons UCL and will return to play among Europe’s elite after a five-year absence.

I’m sure Spurs will get close to a sellout of 90,000 at Wembley for their UCL games and make a lot of money from it but does something about that seem a little strange? Having a season of UCL action in the old White Hart Lane stadium seems fitting and the cozy surroundings and electric atmosphere (it’s one of the loudest and best venues to watch a game in the PL) would certainly intimidate some of Europe’s big boys who may roll into town.

Yet, the fact that the Lane will only hold just over 32,000 fans next season, due to some seats being taken out for construction work, means that almost trebling crowds for big European nights makes sense. It will also give both the FA and Tottenham a chance to test out how things will work for the 2017-18 season.

Ranieri’s Champagne press conference: “I’m Thinkerman, not Tinkerman!”

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Claudio Ranieri raised a glass of champagne in his first press conference as the manager of Premier League champions Leicester.

After being applauded into the room Ranieri, 64, spoke with the assembled media on Thursday ahead of Leicester’s clash with Everton this Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on USA Network and online via Live Extra)

The Italian manager confirmed that legendary Opera singer Andrea Bocelli will perform before the game and, of course, after the Everton game captain Wes Morgan will lift the PL trophy.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ] 

The Foxes, in case you’ve been living under a rock, won their first-ever top-flight title in 132 years as a club on Monday.

They were 5000-1 shots with the bookies at the start of the season and speaking on Thursday, Ranieri revealed he didn’t expect any of this when he took charge last summer at the King Power Stadium.

“Never could I have imagined this,” Ranieri said. We work so hard. Everyone does, but only one can win. This year it happened to me! It’s my karma. I’ve fought so hard to achieve so this is special. I want to thank my players, chairman, staff and fans. Our Chairman gives to us calmness and positivity. Never have I seen him nervous. That is important to me.

“To the fans. They were dreaming. I say dilly-ding,dilly-dong, they woke up and the dream was a reality.”

He then delivered a line which sums up his charismatic nature perfectly.

Ranieri was asked about his previous nickname “The Tinkerman” which was given to him at Chelsea for his constant lineup changes during his time in charge of the Blues from 2000-04.

“I am the Thinkerman, not Tinkerman!” Ranieri laughed.

Now that the “Thinkerman” has delivered one of the greatest sporting stories of all time, naturally plenty of questions have turned to which players well arrive and depart this summer as the Foxes prepare to play in the UEFA Champions League for the first-time in their history and also defend their crown.

“I don’t want big names,” Ranieri said. “I don’t want it in my dressing room. My lads are special. Who arrives must have the same spirit.”

What’s that Claudio, you want some spirits to go with your Champagne?

Fair enough, you’ve earned it…

Report: Man United offer job to Mourinho but there’s a catch

Chelsea's manager Jose Mourinho, center left, makes his way from the opposition dugout after greeting Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, centre right, during their English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Sunday Oct. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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Manchester United want Jose Mourinho to become their new manager.

But hold your horses, Jose. You will have to wait a while.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ] 

With Louis Van Gaal‘s current contract as United’s boss running out in the summer of 2017, it is believed that executive vice chairman Ed Woodward has been sounding out Mourinho’s camp for quite some time.

Mourinho, 53, has been without a job since he was fired by Chelsea last December following a disastrous start to the Premier League campaign which saw the reigning champs lingering above the relegation zone

Journalist Duncan Castles is well known as being close to Mourinho’s camp and he reported the following late on Wednesday:

Numerous other reports are stating similar things and it is believed Mourinho isn’t happy about been asked to wait another year. Previously he’s stated he will be in a new job this July.

Mourinho is also said to have held talks with United recently and has concerns about their transfer policy and the structures in place at Old Trafford.

With Van Gaal, 64, currently steering United to fifth place and within four points of Manchester City and having a game in hand, if he manages to finish in fourth and also win the FA Cup — they play Crystal Palace in the final at Wembley on May 21 — then he could well remain at Old Trafford for another year. He’s told journalists recently that he will be back for another season and as far as he’s concerned he will honor his contract.

However if United fail to finish in the top four and qualify for the UEFA Champions League it would be a huge shock to not see Mourinho replace his old mentor, LVG, this summer.

If these antics — asking Mourinho to wait around for another year — from Woodward and United’s board are true, then it could scupper their chances of getting the “Special One” to take charge altogether.

It’s a delicate, tricky situation and after nearly six months of speculation we don’t seem any closer to seeing Mourinho taking over the Red Devils.

Bayern’s Vidal says “ugly” Atletico not deserved UCL finalists

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27: Juanfran of Atletico Madrid and Arturo Vidal of Bayern Munich argue during the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at Vincente Calderon on April 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal has declared “ugly” Atletico Madrid unworthy finalists in the UEFA Champions League.

Bayern was eliminated in the Champions League semifinal by Atleti on Tuesday, with Diego Simeone’s Spanish side advancing on away goals.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

However, Vidal believed Bayern were the better team in the second leg, saying Atletico played “ugly football” to get through.

Today ugly football – Atletico – played against the best football in the world. The only time they saw the ball was for the goal.

They are going to be dreaming about us right up to the final. They did not have the ball, they took on the best team in the world, they took their chances and got to the final.

The best does not always win in football, like today. They are not deserved finalists.

Bayern Munich controlled more than 70-percent of possession and had 33 shots compared to Atletico’s nine, but those stats mean little as Antoine Griezmann’s away goal was enough to send Atleti to the final.

[ MORE: Former England striker Joe Cole headed to NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies ]

Atletico may not play the most attractive football, but after eliminating Barcelona and Bayern Munich in consecutive legs, it’s hard to argue anyone deserves this more than Simeone’s men.