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.

VIDEO: Sporting KC’s Medranda scores wonder goal in win over Vancouver

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Sporting KC showed again on Friday night why they’re the rightful leaders at the top of the Western Conference, pulling four points ahead of the LA Galaxy and the Vancouver Whitecaps with a dominating 6-0 win over the Whitecaps at home.

Scottish forward Johnny Russell bagged a hat-trick in the game, all by the 48th minute, but the highlight of the night came off the foot of 24-year-old Jimmy Medranda. The Colombian scored an absolute worldie from a ridiculous angle, taking the space given to him outside the top-left corner of the box and sailing it over the head of Vancouver goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic and into the back of the net.

It was, of course, massively beneficial to Sporting KC that Vancouver went two men down in the 40th minute after a huge skirmish that saw Yordy Reyna and Efrain Juarez both sent off. Reyna earned his marching orders for throwing Russell to the ground, while Juarez reportedly used unacceptable language.

Still, KC was already up 3-0 when the incident occurred, and credit must go to teams that take advantage of what has been handed to them. Sporting KC certainly did that as Russell becomes the first Scotsman to score an MLS hat-trick since Colorado’s John Spencer in 2001, and Medranda’s wonder goal sealed the deal past the half-hour mark.

Jurgen Klopp already wants a piece of Man City next season

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Manchester City may have run away with the Premier League title this year, but Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp can’t wait for a clean slate to try and challenge City’s title defense next season.

The Reds are into the Champions League semifinals and also looking to finish the Premier League season strong in a battle for positioning in the top four, but when asked about next year, Klopp was giddy.

“Of course I don’t fear the challenge,” Klopp said in his prematch press conference ahead of Liverpool’s Premier League visit to West Brom on Saturday morning.

The German made it clear he wants a piece of Manchester City next season. “This year, if City plays a normal season – which they didn’t do – then it would have been really close until the end because we are now all close together.”

“United is four points ahead [of Liverpool], Tottenham is two points behind. It’s a real fight for these positions. All big six pretty much delivered this year but City delivered the best. We will see. It’s difficult to deal with success as it is difficult to deal with other things in football but I’m pretty sure they will be strong again.”

Liverpool is one of only two teams to beat City in league play this year, with Manchester United being the other. Klopp and company torched the City back line in a wild 4-3 victory that ended City’s 22-match unbeaten run. Ultimately, though, Klopp knows they have to look at the entire season as a whole to best the defending champs next year, not just their matches against each other.

“It’s not important how good City will be, it’s about how we can get all the other points, plus the points we got so far again,” he said. “That’s the job to do. That is why it is always possible that it is closer. But are they able to dominate? They don’t have a limit to spending and all that stuff so I don’t know.”

VIDEO: Goalkeeper sends Memphis Depay flying with skillful touch

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Former Manchester United attacker Memphis Depay has one of the brightest spots for Lyon this season that sees them battling with Monaco and Marseille for 2nd place behind a dominant PSG. He has scored 15 goals and assisted 11 others this Ligue 1 campaign, adding to his tally just four minutes into Friday’s 5-2 win over Dijon, the sixth win in a row for the club that pulled them within a point of Monaco.

However, there was a moment to forget for Depay in the victory as well.

With the score still at 1-1 in the 19th minute, Depay was sent high up the pitch to press Dijon goalkeeper Baptiste Reynet, owner of the leakiest net of the Ligue 1 season. Nevertheless, sometimes the underdog prevails, and that’s what happened as Depay flung himself at the ball to put Reynet under pressure.

One silky touch by the netminder was all it took for Depay to end up on his backside.

The 24-year-old Dutch winger has had a fantastic season and one that could potentially propel him back to the biggest stage and a bigger paycheck, but for now, we can all poke fun at his misery in the moment.

Dortmund admits interest in signing Batshuayi permanently

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Michy Batshuayi might be out for the season with a serious ankle injury, but he may have already done enough to earn a permanent move to Borussia Dortmund.

The Chelsea striker moved on loan to the Bundesliga side in January and made an immediate impact, scoring two goals on his debut, and ultimately wound up with seven goals in 10 Bundesliga games before his ankle injury brought his season to a close. Now, the Dortmund front office is speaking very highly of the Belgian goalscorer, not so subtly hinting that they will take an aggressive approach this summer.

The interest to sign him is there,” said Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke. “But first we have to wait and see who will be Chelsea’s coach next season. Then we’ll start looking.”

Chelsea has Antonio Conte currently at the helm, but there are strong rumors that the Italian will depart at the end of the season as the Blues sit comfortably outside the Champions League places. Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is known for his quick trigger, and despite Conte winning the Premier League just last season, this year’s disappointment will likely not be tolerated.

That yet-to-be-determined future has a significant impact on Batshuayi’s future, as Watzke mentions. The new Chelsea boss could take a liking to Batshuayi, which could complicate his permanent move. In addition, it’s possible that current players on the Blues roster could depart, like Alvaro Morata, Olivier Giroud, or Willian, making Batshuayi’s place at Chelsea more tenable.

There’s plenty to be sorted out in the coming months, but with Batshuayi’s 10-game performance at Westfalenstadion at the forefront of Watzke’s mind, it’s clear there will be potential here as the summer draws near.