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New York Cosmos add veteran Premier League midfielder Niko Kranjcar

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Thought the loss of Raul and Marcos Senna would destroy the New York Cosmos? Think again.

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After acquiring Venezuelan midfielder Juan Arango earlier this offseason, the Cosmos announced on Friday the signing of Premier League veteran Niko Kranjcar.

The Croatian playmaker played for Tottenham Hotspur and Portsmouth, before helping Queens Park Rangers move to the PL in 2014.

“I’ve enjoyed my time training with the Cosmos, working with these players and coaches has been a great experience,” Kranjcar said. He was included in the team’s preseason tour of California. “I think the style of play here suits me well, I and I’m excited to officially represent the club on the field this season.”

In his time with Croatia’s national team, Kranjcar recorded 81 caps and scored 16 goals for his native country. He was a staple for the Vatreni during the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, despite his team not advancing out of the group stage. Prior to his successful senior team stint, the Kranjcar featured for a number of Croatia’s youth sides.

While the move for Kranjcar may not be the most noteworthy, he is still a very talented player that will certainly fill a need immediately in the Cosmos midfielder. With the departure of Senna, New York’s newest foreign signing can slot in as an attacker midfielder or even as a winger.

MLS may have David Villa and Kaka, but the Cosmos continue to make NASL relevant with moves like this one.

Follow @MattReedFutbol 

Leicester City beat Chelsea to $15 million signing of Andrej Kramaric

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Relegation haunted Leicester City have outfoxed title chasing Chelsea.

That’s right. Newly-promoted Leicester have beaten Premier League giants Chelsea to the signing of highly-rated Croatian striker Andrej Kramaric.

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The 23-year-old forward has agreed to join Leicester for a club record fee of over $15 million, as he preferred to play a key role in Leicester’s charge away from relegation instead of being used as a bit-part player at Chelsea. Only time will tell if that’s a wise choice from the Croatian international.

His stats suggest he could have quite the impact at the King Power Stadium. Kramaric has scored 21 goals in 18 appearances in the Croatian top flight for HNK Rijeka, 28 goals in 30 all competitions for club and country. and was also named as Croatia’s best player in 2014. Although he has passed a medical and has agree to personal terms with Leicester, Kramaric must now wait for a work permit to be granted before signing  the three-and-half-year deal.

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Speaking at a press conference on Thursday ahead of Leicester’s game against Aston Villa, Kramaric will not be available until his work permit is squared away, Foxes boss Nigel Pearson had the following to say.

“He has represented Croatia at every level and speaks volumes of the lad that he is prepared to come to us in the situation we are in at the moment,” Pearson said. “It is really important for us to strengthen.”

So, Leicester look to have strengthened their offensive options considerably as they look to steer themselves away from the bottom of the Premier League standings and stave off relegation. Leonardo Ulloa is their top scorer so far this season with seven PL goals but their three other recognized strikers, Jamie Vardy, David Nugent and Chris Wood, have managed just four goals between them so far. Leicester are currently four points from safety but a recent upturn in results has seen them beat Hull City, draw with Liverpool and dispatch Newcastle United in the FA Cup.

Kramaric must believe in Leicester’s ability to stay up if he turned down Chelsea. Can the Croatian fire the Foxes to safety?

Croatia announce final 23-man squad for World Cup

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The list of finalized World Cup rosters keeps flooding in. On Saturday, following a 2-1 victory over Mali, Croatia announced the 23 players that will travel to Brazil.

Niko Kovac didn’t have too difficult a time making cuts from his preliminary roster – but that’s mostly because the injury crisis plaguing the World Cup is all too apparent in the Croatia squad. Hamburg duo Milan Badelj and Ivo Ilicevic and Ivan Strinic of Dnipro all fell to injury, and the injury Niko Kranjcar picked up in QPR’s promotion playoff will keep him out as well.

Along with those four, Kovac also scratched domestic players Duje Cop and Mario Pasalic, as well as Udinese defender Igor Bubnjic.

Despite the injuries, Croatia are set to be a tough opponent for Cameroon, Mexico, and yes, maybe even Brazil. Luka Modric, who dazzled at Real Madrid this season, will frustrate any opponent. Ivan Rakitic, also playing in La Liga, may be lesser-known but is equally capable of creating danger. And, of course, they have Mario Mandzukic up front – although he’ll miss out on the match with Brazil.

Croatia’s 2014 World Cup Roster

Goalkeepers: Stipe Pletikosa (Rostov), Danijel Subasic (Monaco), Oliver Zelenika (Lokomotiv Moscow)

Defenders: Darijo Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk), Dejan Lovren (Southampton), Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow), Gordon Schildenfeld (Panathinaikos), Danijel Pranjic (Panathinaikos), Domagoj Vida (Dinamo Kiev), Sime Vrsaljko (Genoa)

Midfielders: Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla), Ognjen Vukojevic (Dynamo Kiev), Ivan Perisic (Wolfsburg), Mateo Kovacic (Inter Milan), Marcelo Brozovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Ivan Mocinic (Rijeka), Sammir (Getafe)

Forwards: Mario Mandzukic (Bayern Munich), Ivica Olic (Wolfsburg), Eduardo da Silva (Shakhtar Donetsk), Nikica Jelavic (Hull), Ante Rebic (Fiorentina)

European giants Portugal, Sweden to clash in 2014 World Cup playoffs

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The European playoff draw for the 2014 World Cup took place at FIFA HQ in Zurich on Monday morning, and it made sure that either Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Cristiano Ronaldo won’t be present in Brazil next summer.

That’s a bit sad, when you think about it.

As you’ve probably just worked out, Portugal will face Sweden in the playoffs, while Ukraine host France, Greece take on Romania and minnows Iceland play Croatia. Just looking at those eight illustrious nations all scrapping away for a final chance of going to Brazil 2014 makes you realize how hard it is to qualify from the UEFA region, with some real humdingers to look forward to next month.

The games will be played on Friday 15 November and Tuesday 19 November, with the first team listed below hosting the opening game.

So, who are the favorites to make the dance in 2014 after the playoff draw? I’d take Portugal over Sweden, with Ronaldo being the difference, France over Ukraine with Les Blues’ defensive solidity reigning supreme, Greece over Romania as their experience will be key, and I fancy Iceland to make their first-ever World Cup as they play a disorganized Croatia who’ve just lost their manager.

Agree? Disagree? Either way, discuss below in the comments. We’re set for some cracking playoff ties in November.

DRAW IN FULL

Portugal vs. Sweden

Ukraine vs. France

Greece vs. Romania

Iceland vs. Croatia

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.