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Competitive games finally return to Iraq

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Competitive international soccer returns to Iraq on Tuesday less than a month after FIFA lifted a near three-decade-long ban.

In the group stage of the 2018 AFC Cup, Asia’s second tier club competition, Lebanon’s Al Ahed will travel to the central Iraqi city of Karbala, located about 100 kilometers (62 miles) southwest of Baghdad, to take on Al Zawraa.

Soccer’s world governing body imposed the ban in 1990 after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. It was temporarily lifted in 2011 for a World Cup qualifier between Iraq and Jordan in the northern city of Irbil, but quickly reimposed after power outages.

With Iraq declaring victory over militant group Islamic State in December after more than three years of fighting, the Iraq Football Association and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) stepped up efforts to persuade FIFA to lift the ban. This was helped by a successful Feb. 28 exhibition match between Iraq and Saudi Arabia in the southern city of Basra that was attended by 60,000 fans.

On March 16 FIFA agreed to lift the ban in Karbala and Basra as well as Irbil, three cities seen as the safest in the country.

“This was a decision that the AFC actively supported and welcomes,” Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa said in a statement on Monday.

�”I visited Basra in February for the 4-1 win against Saudi Arabia and I said then that the time had come for the lifting of the ban.” added Salman. “Now we have another considerable milestone with the return of AFC Cup matches to the country in the next few days.”

In earlier games in the tournament, Al Zawraa had played its home games in Qatar, a country that has played host, along with Jordan, to numerous Iraqi club and national teams over the years.

Al Zawraa is a Baghdad club but will have to wait to return to the capital. The city still witnesses militant attacks and is not yet deemed safe enough by FIFA to stage international games though the organization said it will continue to monitor the situation.

Al Zawraa could go top of Group B with a win. In Group A on April 17, Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya will host Malkiya of Bahrain, also in Karbala.

Liga MX wrap: Xolos beats Chivas as Apertura begins

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Liga MX’s Apertura season is off and running with all 18 clubs partaking in a match this weekend.

[ MORE: Marketing Pulisic with BVB ]

Club Tijuana 2-1 Chivas Guadalajara

Scoreless at the half, the weekend’s marquee match sprang to life in the final 45. Juan Martin Lucero gave TJ a 54th minute lead before Jose Van Rankin knotted it up five minutes later.

Lucero assisted Jose Rivero’s 75th minute winner, which was helped in its status when Michael Perez took a red card in the 80th.

Cruz Azul 3-0 Puebla

Elias Hernandez scored a goal and added an assist, and Milton Caraglio put one of his five shots on goal into the net. Andres Renteria also scored in the win.

Tigres 2-0 Leon

Andre-Pierre Gignac scored, and Lucas Zelarayan marked a goal and an assist in the win.

Elsewhere
Necaxa 2-1 Club America
Toluca 2-0 Morelia
Santos Laguna 2-1 Lobos BUAP
Pachuca 0-1 Monterrey
Veracruz 0-2 Pumas UNAM
Atlas 0-0 Queretaro

Report: Colorado acquires USMNT mid Acosta for Badji

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The West’s first place team is switching it up in a big way.

FC Dallas is sending Homegrown Player and USMNT midfielder Kellyn Acosta to Western foes Colorado Rapids in exchange for striker Dominique Badji, according to a report by The Dallas Morning News.

[ MORE: Pulisic rips up Liverpool ]

Acosta, 22, has 17 caps and a goal for the U.S., and is primarily a defensive midfielder. He’s also played right and left back.

He’s appeared 139 times for Dallas, scoring 13 times with nine assists, but had fallen out with head coach Oscar Pareja. He’s also struggled mightily on the field, according to WhoScored.

Badji, 25, has seven goals and three assists in 16 matches for the Rapids this season, building on an eight-goal, five-assist campaign last season.

FCD has gotten six goals out of forward Maxi Urruti, and there’s been little production from anyone else. Cristian Colman is out with an ankle injury and managed just a pair of goals in 399 minutes.

The risk of trading Acosta is mitigated by the continued speculation that he may test the waters of European soccer. Badji’s a quality player, but Colorado may’ve gotten a bargain in its push to escape the dregs of the West.

Quintero, Loons pick LAFC apart in five-star win (video)

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Minnesota United throttled LAFC on Sunday, using a Christian Ramirez brace to batter the hot expansion team 5-1 in Minnesota.

Darwin Quintero had a goal and two assists for the Loons, who took advantage of LAFC’s decision not to start dominant forward Adama Diomande and center back Walker Zimmerman.

[ MORE: Marketing Pulisic with BVB ]

Quintero ripped off seven shots, putting five on goal. He now has 10 goals and five assists since joining the Loons after scoring two and eight in 29 matches for Club America last year.

Miguel Ibarra recorded a goal and an assist, while Rasmus Schuller also scored. LAFC’s goal came courtesy Benny Feilhaber.

Minnesota’s Bobby Shuttleworth and LA’s Tyler Miller each made six saves in their goals.

LAFC fails in a bid to make up points on Western Conference first seed FC Dallas, while the Loons now can eye a playoff spot in the West.

Already-thin Liverpool center back corps loses Matip to quad injury

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Liverpool’s 3-1 loss to Borussia Dortmund featured an injury to a position with very little depth.

The Reds lost Joel Matip to what Jurgen Klopp said could possibly be a “small tear” in one of his quads.

[ MORE: Marketing Pulisic with BVB ]

If Matip, 26, needs any significant time to heal up, he’ll put a major question mark into Liverpool’s opening day center back pairing.

Virgil Van Dijk, who scored against BVB on Sunday, already won’t have Dejan Lovren as a partner thanks to a post-World Cup vacation.

That leaves Joe Gomez and Ragnar Klavan as options next to Van Dijk.

Matches at Crystal Palace and home to Brighton and Hove Albion follow the Aug. 12 visit from West Ham.