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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.

Columbus, NYCFC release new kits to mixed results

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New York City FC
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Two Major League Soccer clubs have put their kits out there for the 2016 season. They’ve received a mediocre welcome at best.

Columbus was the first, and their kit makes a bold statement moving away from the traditional yellow and black that so often adorns their regular shirts. Instead, the kit incorporates the Columbus flag onto it. The release has seen quite a negative reaction on social media.

The kit was unveiled at the Columbus City Hall on Wednesday, featuring the traditional adidas stripes, although instead of the usual placement on the shoulders, the stripes come down the side of the torso. Recently, adidas has the tendency to copy general jersey patterns across its multiple properties, so look for this design with other clubs in the near future.

The negative reaction to the Columbus release isn’t terribly surprising considering fans often enjoy sticking to tradition, and backlash is common when clubs deviate from the norm. As an additional hurdle, the color contrast between red and yellow is somewhat stark, lending to the difficult reception. Add in the bright pastel blue shorts and…yikes.

While the club didn’t describe how they will utilize this kit during the season, it’s likely to be the primary (at least for now) as the club release says the kit portfolio also includes last year’s black kit, which is traditionally the away kit.

NYCFC’s release of their secondary kit was more positive, receiving a mixed response on social media.

As you can see, adidas again copied their general outline with the stripes down the side of the torso. However, the German clothing manufacturer did much better with the general design of these kits than the Columbus ones. I will give a bit of personal opinion here: I absolutely love these kits. The ripple effect accentuates the crest with a near-3D effect, and the colors mesh perfectly which serves to assuage the eye from being overwhelmed by a busy design. If there’s any criticism, it’s that without an outline, the Etihad logo tends to get in the way a bit, but that’s nitpicking. Well done NYCFC. Columbus…I’ll leave that one to you all.

Men In Blazers podcast: Romelu Lukaku Pod Special

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Rog and Davo break down Leicester City’s 3 – 1 win at Manchester City, marvel at Spurs going second in the table, and talk about the headlines surrounding the mid-table clash between Chelsea and United.

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

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FA Cup recap: West Brom survives with penalty win over Peterborough

PETERBOROUGH, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 10:  Darren Fletcher of West Bromwich Albion celebrates with team-mate Saido Berahino after scoring his team's first goal during the Emirates FA Cup fourth round replay match between Peterborough United and West Bromwich Albion at ABAX Stadium on February 10, 2016 in Peterborough, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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West Brom is the last team through to the FA Cup fifth round with a penalty win over Peterborough United after a 1-1 draw in their replay at ABAX Stadium.

Down 1-0 10 minutes after the halftime break, Darren Fletcher scored the equalizer in the 71st minute, and that scoreline lasted through regulation and extra time. Fletcher missed a penalty in the shootout, but Baggies goalkeeper Ben Foster saved twice to put West Brom through.

[ MORE: Full schedule for every PL club ]

Other than the penalty shootout, things were quite even throughout the match. Posh actually lead slightly on possession, and had an 8-5 shots-on-target advantage as well. Jon Taylor was the man to score for Peterborough, putting them 1-0 ahead shortly after halftime. The 23-year-old midfielder also scored in the 2-2 draw at The Hawthornes in the original matchup.

West Brom will now take on Reading in the fifth round, a team that hammered Walsall 4-0 in their fourth round meeting. Reading currently sits 15th in the Championship table

VIDEO: Alejandro Bedoya scores extra-time winner for Nantes in Coupe de France

SALVADOR, BRAZIL - JULY 01: Alejandro Bedoya of the United States controls the ball during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Round of 16 match between Belgium and the United States at Arena Fonte Nova on July 1, 2014 in Salvador, Brazil.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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With USMNT World Cup qualifying not far away, Jurgen Klinsmann will certainly look to club performances to find out which of his players are grasping club opportunities by the horns.

One US national teamer in great form is Alejandro Bedoya. The 28-year-old has scored four times across all competitions since January 23rd, and his latest is a massive one. Bedoya sent Nantes to the quarterfinals of the Coupe de France with a 118th-minute winner against Bordeaux.

Bedoya has been a lightning rod for Nantes the past two or three seasons, but something he struggled for occasionally is consistent game time. Not anymore. The American has started five of their last six league matches, and since returning from some time off due to illness, Bedoya has featured in the starting lineup in nine of 11 Ligue 1 matches. What’s more, he’s finished the full 90 minutes in seven of those.

Klinsmann has looked to Bedoya in the past for a combination of electricity and defensive ability on the wing. Now, he may bring both endurance and a goalscoring threat to international competitions, which would go a long way in raising his national team stock.