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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.

Klopp’s Liverpool squad enthusiasm: “Everything is there”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 09:  Jurgen Klopp is unveiled as the new manager of Liverpool FC during a press conference at Anfield on October 9, 2015 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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It isn’t Dortmund, but that’s a good thing for Liverpool.

Our own Joe Prince-Wright was on the scene for Jurgen Klopp’s unveiling as the latest Reds manager, and the 48-year-old German had a lot to say.

Perhaps most poignant for Liverpool fans are Klopp’s words on the talent he inherits from Brendan Rodgers. Sure there are quips that will hit the headlines, but how about Klopp’s assertion that success shouldn’t take nearly as long as his dramatic work at BVB.

From JPW on Merseyside:

“We did in Dortmund what we had to do, to improve the players, to work for a common idea of play. That is what we did and its the same thing we want to do here. They are not the same players of course,” Klopp told NBC Sports ProSoccerTalk. “These players from Liverpool are better, more experienced in some ways and younger in other cases. Everything is okay, I am here. I am not here only because LFC was calling. I believe in the potential of this team. Four or five strikers you can work with when they are not injured, midfielders is really good, defenders experienced and very young, goalkeeper is really good. Everything is there.”

Everything. A powerful word and one that doesn’t get lost in translation. Liverpool has a batch of world class talent, and Klopp’s is anxious to organize it in world class fashion. Strap in, Anfield.

CONCACAF Cup preview: Ultimate guide to USMNT vs Mexico

Beasley, and other US veterans, have been asked to take the young guys under their wing.
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So here we go: the biggest rivalry in U.S. Soccer, the one that sends fans racing for the stadia for a glimpse of history.

It’s the U.S. and Mexico for the right to go to the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia, and it will play out at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night.

National pride is on the line, and national jobs may rightly be in jeopardy. Let’s swing through our coverage, and what’s at stake in just over 24 hours time.

The Battles

Who is the key to Saturday’s match? Is it Michael Bradley? Fabian Johnson? Andres Guardado? Will Klinsmann opt for players with Liga MX experience, stay Euro Heavy, or appease the domestic set? Read more here.

The XI

So how will Klinsmann line ’em up? JPW has his preference, some options, and a prediction of what the manager will do.

The history

What are the chances this one finds its way into the upper echelon of matches in the Mexico/U.S. rivalry? This is the company it could join.

Klinsmann’s future

The folks in the anti-Klinsmann brigade seethe with pure detestation of the USMNT boss. Any quote from him is self-serving and dishonest, any success accidental. Beat Germany or the Netherlands in friendlies on the road? Coincidental and Unimportant. Lose a friendly to Brazil? The worst thing ever.

[ MORE: The case for firing Klinsmann after a loss ]

So this match, being meaningful and testing his unbeaten mark vs Mexico, is going to be a clarion call for U.S. Soccer fans. Barring a cataclysmic loss in horrific blowout fashion, he won’t be canned. But a win will be validation for his supporters while a loss would cue a genuine hot seat. And for his detractors, already foaming at the mouth from the words of icon Landon Donovan? Kablammo.