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.

U.S. Open Cup roundup: Poku lifts Miami; Red Bulls, Cincy win on PKs

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While MLS represents the majority of the remaining clubs in this year’s U.S. Open Cup, one side continues to defy the odds.

[ MORE: Minnesota United adds Hearts midfielder Sam Nicholson ]

Miami FC reached their first quarterfinal in club history after knocking off Atlanta United late on Wednesday, behind a goal and an assist from Kwadwo Poku. The victory for Miami sets up a date with FC Cincinnati — who pulled off an unbelievable shootout win against the Chicago Fire.

Meanwhile, the New York Red Bulls and New England Revolution both advanced on the night with wins over the Philadelphia Union and D.C. United, respectively. The Red Bulls and Revs will meet in the final eight as well.

Sporting KC kept its hope of hoisting a fourth U.S. Open Cup title alive on Wednesday with a 2-0 win over the Houston Dynamo. The 2015 winners will take on FC Dallas — who defeated the Colorado Rapids on Tuesday night.

Here are all the results from tonight’s Open Cup action.

Houston Dynamo 0-2 Sporting KC
New England Revolution 2-1 D.C. United
Miami FC 3-2 Atlanta United
New York Red Bulls 1-1 (5-3 on PKs) Philadelphia Union
FC Cincinnati 0-0 (3-1 on PKs) Chicago Fire
San Jose Earthquakes 2-1 Seattle Sounders
LA Galaxy 2-0 Sacramento Republic

Report: City Football Group set to expand outreach with Girona deal

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City Football Group appears on the verge of adding to its global outreach, and it’s next destination looks to be in Spain.

[ MORE: Are Southampton’s days of selling behind the club? ]

The group of investors, which are known for controlling Premier League side Manchester City, are reportedly nearing a deal to purchase a partial stake in Spanish club Girona — which is set to make its La Liga debut in 2017/18.

CFG is said to be gaining a near “50 percent” stake in the club, with the rest of the club owned by Media Base, a company owned by Pep Guardiola‘s brother, Pere.

Over recent years, CFG has vastly expanded its ownership outreach and currently has a stake in five clubs around the world, with Girona set to be the sixth.

MLS side New York City FC, Australian A-League side Melbourne City FC, Japan’s Yokohama F. Marinos and Club Atletico Torque in Uruguay are all part of the CFG enterprise, alongside Man City.

New York Red Bulls ink goalkeeper Luis Robles to new deal

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The “Iron Man” will keep up his amazing journey with the New York Red Bulls, after signing a new deal with the club on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Wesley Sneijder on verge of joining Los Angeles FC ]

Goalkeeper Luis Robles has extended his contract with the reigning Eastern Conference champions, as the American continues to raise his consecutive starts streak, which stands at 157.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed in the club’s release.

Robles joined the Red Bulls back in 2012 after playing in Germany, and the shot-stopper hasn’t missed a start ever since.

Report: Minnesota United adds Hearts midfielder Sam Nicholson

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Minnesota United has had its shares of ups and down in its debut MLS season, but the Loons are on the verge making an exciting young signing.

[ MORE: Wesley Sneijder closing in on Los Angeles FC move ]

ESPN FC is reporting that Minnesota will sign Hearts winger Sam Nicholson from the Scottish Premier League on a deal that makes him a Loon until 2019.

The young attacker is expected to join the MLS side when the summer transfer window opens on July 10.

Nicholson, 22, has played with the Edinburgh side since his youth days, and made his senior debut with the club in 2013. During his time at Hearts, Nicholson scored 16 goals in all competitions for the team.

Last season, Nicholson missed 16 matches due to a significant knee injury.

According to the report, Scottish sides Rangers and Aberdeen were also among those interested in acquiring Nicholson, while English Championship clubs Bristol City and Barnsley also reached out about the attacker.