England U-20 squad named for World Youth Cup in Turkey


England U-20 coach Peter Taylor named his final 21-man squad for this summer’s Under 20 World Cup in Turkey.

The list includes three players from Manchester United, Sam Johnstone, Tom Thorpe and Larnell Cole.

Everton’s young midfielder Ross Barkley, who spent the 2012-2013 season out on-loan at Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United, will be key to England’s chances at the World Youth Cup.

Iraq will play England on June 23 at the 7,100 capacity Akdeniz University Stadium in Antalya.

Hakim Shaker’s Iraqi side have recently been preparing the Uzbek capital city Tashkent, where they played the Uzbek U-20 side twice, winning the first game 1-0 and losing the second 2-0. A third game was played against a team representing FC Bunyodkor, who Iraq managed to beat 3-1. The goals were scored by Jawad Kadhim, Mahdi Kamil and Mohammed Jabar Shukan.

In their final game played today, the Iraqi youth team won 4-0 against a club from Tashkent.

FULL ENGLAND U20 SQUAD

Keepers: Sam Johnstone (Man United), George Long (Sheffield United), Connor Ripley (Middlesbrough).

Defenders: Sam Byram (Leeds), Eric Dier (Sporting Lisbon), Jon Flanagan (Liverpool), Jamaal Lascelles (Nottingham Forest), Danny Potts (West Ham), Adam Reach (Boro) John Stones (Everton), Tom Thorpe (Man United).

Midfielders: Ross Barkley (Everton), Gael Bigirimana (Newcastle), Conor Coady (Liverpool), Larnell Cole (Man United), John Lundstram (Everton), James Ward Prowse (Southampton).

Forwards: Chris Long (Everton), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Alex Pritchard (Tottenham), Luke Williams (Middlesbrough)

Iraq footballers stumble amid nearby Baghdad blasts


By Mohamad Ali Harissi (AFP) – https://twitter.com/aleeharissi

BAGHDAD — It was the 60-minute mark in Iraq’s football friendly against Liberia and fans in Baghdad were nervously hoping against hope that their national side would ward off defeat.

Then explosions just a short distance from the stadium yanked their minds back to what is an all-too-familiar story in the violence-plagued city.

Two car bombs went off about 20 minutes apart at used car dealerships in Habibiyah, both echoing through the stadium as Iraq battled to overcome a 1-0 deficit on Monday afternoon.

The second, which sounded even closer than the first, sparked shouts from the thousands of spectators of “La ilaha ila Allah,” or “There is no God but God,” a chant typically reserved for funerals or news of deaths.

At what was only the second international to be played in Baghdad in two years, fans scrambled to the top of the stands, looking to see where the blasts had struck, while two sides on the pitch gamely played on.

But after the final whistle, with Iraq down 1-0, frustration with the national side mixed with resignation over the continuing violence in Baghdad, where more than a dozen bombings killed 55 people on Monday.

“In the middle of these explosions, we live our lives,” said Ghazwan, walking out of Baghdad’s Shaab stadium, as smoke hung over nearby areas.

“We are not afraid of these explosions; we are afraid of this terrible team.”

As spectators passed by, cursing Iraq’s players and coaches, the 35-year-old stopped and simply said of the victims of Monday’s violence, “God have mercy on those who were sacrificed.”

While he paused, another fan walked nearby, screaming, “Explosions hit us on the roads, and our team loses on the field!”

“Is there anything worse than this?”

The car dealerships targeted by the bombs were surrounded by soldiers and policemen, all trying to convince the crowd that had gathered to disperse, fearful of a follow-up attack, a common feature of violence in Iraq.

No group has claimed responsibility for the carnage, but Sunni militants linked to Al-Qaeda often set off coordinated attacks in Baghdad. They typically target Shiite Muslims, whom they regard as apostates, or the government or security forces in a bid to raise tensions and undermine confidence in the authorities.

Anwar, owner of one of the dealerships, scanned the damage to his and other businesses, which had been targeted by the first blast.

The 57-year-old tried to calm his fellow businessmen, repeatedly telling them, “Thanks be to God for safety,” and “God will compensate you.”

“A car came here while we were busy watching football, and it went off,” he told AFP. “They (militants) took advantage of our love for football.”

As Anwar spoke, 47-year-old dealer Fadhel Hanun interrupted by launching into a tirade.

“Guards are here, and a car explodes here! How can we understand this? This is a failed state.”

Nearby, at the site of the second explosion, 27-year-old Rabiyah recounted the moments following the blast, when he had been in his car.

“I threw myself to the ground,” he said, standing among more than a dozen destroyed cars, all of which had been for sale. “I felt so much fear that it pushed me to open the door and run.”

“I was only here to sell my car,” he said.

Also at the site of the attacks, a heavyset man who looked to be in shock sat down, resting one arm on the blackened chassis of what had been a car.

When his phone rang, he immediately handed it to another man, telling him, “I think I have lost my hearing in the explosion. Please answer whoever is calling, and tell them that I am okay.”

The atmosphere was a far cry from the hope espoused ahead of the match in Shaab stadium, where the Liberian side were positive about the future for Iraq.

“As human beings, we were afraid of coming here, but football for us represents a path to solving any crisis,” said team spokesman Henri Flomo.

Referring to his country’s own brutal civil war, Flomo said, “In Liberia, we had an internal crisis for 14 years, but we came back, and now we are united.”

“We are sure that Iraqis can achieve this.”

Ammo Baba: The King is dead, long live the King


It’s exactly four years, since we lost one of the greatest Iraqis, the football legend Ammo Baba, a champion and winner as both a player and coach.

He was the inside right forward for the Royal Guards, who King Faisal cheered on at the Scouts Ground in the mid-Fifties, the forward of Iraq’s national side that was honoured by Abdul-Karim Qasim and Abdul-Rahman Al-Arif, and the coach that was greeted at the Republican Palace by former Iraqi president and tyrant Saddam Hussein. Ammo Baba was a man that brought smiles and happiness to the lives of millions.

Born Emmanuel Baba Dawud, in Baghdad in the Kota Camp on the British RAF base Hinaidi, the young Emmanuel was always destined for greatness, at the age of 15 he somehow found himself selected for the Iraqi national school football team even though he had left his studies.

By the age of 20, the name of Ammo Baba (“Uncle Father”), the affectionate nickname given to him by his school team coach Ismail Mohammed, was on everyone’s lips in Baghdad, becoming one of Iraq’s most prolific goalscorers at both local and international level, with a near perfect 100% goal-scoring ratio from 1955 to 1960. As a player, he could adapt to any position, and played in defence, midfield and attack in his playing career.

A national championship winning coach at the age of 23 at Nadi Athori, made even more impressive when you think it was done with an Assyrian only club policy, and in 1967, Ammo was coaching two teams in the Iraqi league! He guided Iraq to three Gulf Cups in 1979, 1984 and 1988, an Asian Games title in 1982 and qualified for the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games.

We need more Ammo Babas – Not Ali Babas

After the fall of Saddam Hussein, ten years ago, my uncle quipped that after the demise of the president and when millions of his portraits were being torn down, what Iraq really needed were even more portraits.

That was what we got, a decade of poignant motionless-images (much like the people themselves, one-dimensional) of uninspiring figures, Sayed Muqtada Al-Sadr, Saleh Al-Mutlaq, Tariq Al-Hashimi, Sayed Ammar “Uday” Al-Hakim, Hoshyar Zebari, Nechirvan Barzani, Dr. Ibrahim Al-Jafari, Barham Salih, Jalal Talabani, Masoud Barzani, and Nouri Al-Maliki.

But will they face the test of time, can anyone remember the names of or even recognise figures such as Taha Al-Hashimi, Jalal Baban or Ani Baqr Sidiqi.

Yes, neither could I, they like the former mentioned, were ruling Iraq more than 50 years ago and people at the time followed them but where are they now?

People with the humanity of Ammo Baba, they will live forever.

It’s funny that in a majority Muslim country, where the (far-right) Islamic conservatives of both sects, politicised and militarised profess national unity (only when they want) and call to lift up high the name of our ‘great’ nation and its people – by the gun, it is football and music that has united the masses, not politics or religion.

In 2007, when Iraq was at its worst, with its political impasse, daily suicide bombings, armed militias carrying Kalashnikovs running around the country, killing and kidnapping in the name of religion and that weathered-use of the meaningless/redundant word of “Al-Watan”, the only watani Iraqis have is the national grid, which it sees little of daily.

It’s ironic that one of the men that brought (freedom to) Iraq to this, former British Prime Minister توني Blair, converted from the Anglican Church to the Roman Catholic church.

He converted to Catholicism, but did the British people care?

Hundreds of years ago, Blair may have been hung at the Tyburn for his religious faiths, however on the day of his conversion, there were no cries from mobs lined up on the streets of Marble Arch to see the neck of the former PM snap. For the British people, it was just another day.

In Iraq, if one Iraqi citizen or public figure even thinks of changing from one Muslim sect to another, the reaction would be similar to crowds in 17th century London, baying for the blood of people facing the gallows.

At a time when Iraq was/still is (delete when appropriate) shattering in front of people’s eyes, it was Asood Al-Rafidain and Shada Hassoun that linked the Iraqi people together and brought smiles on their faces.

Portraits, pictures, or slogans are the last thing Iraq need.

The youth of today need people to look up to, real life role models, not reality TV stars who disappear after their fifteen minutes of ‘fame’ or self-important politicians surrounded by their supporters/well-paid entourage, flying around the world, that talk of a future in Iraq, but educate their children abroad.

Unity is the key, but in Iraq everyone believes they are in the right and the rest are wrong. Tolerance of the views of others, is absent in New Iraq, or even The Other Iraq. Freedom has come at a price, ‘they’ say it is either ‘our’ way or no other way.

We, Iraqis, need inspirational figures like the late Ammo Baba, a man that fought and struggled through life, not for fame or fortune, but for the love of his craft, football and his people.

Time changes everything, lets hope it will not be time wasted, for another wasted generation.

In Ammo Baba, we remember that there is hope and that we should never give up on it. Long live Ammo Baba.

A young Iraqi orphan missing her mother, so she drew her and fell asleep inside her

“A young Iraqi orphan missing her mother, so she drew her and fell asleep inside her”

Iraq beaten by Liberia in World Cup warm-up in Baghdad


Iraq, shaping-up for a make or break month of World Cup qualifying matches, were surprisingly beaten 1-0 by West African side Liberia, in a friendly match played on Monday, at a half-filled Al-Shaab Stadium in Baghdad, that was rocked by two explosions outside the ground.

The winner came four minutes into the second half through Marcus Macauley, after the Liberians had weathered a first half onslaught on their goal. The game was Iraq’s only warm-up game before they take on Oman, Australia and Japan, in the World Cup qualifiers next month. The Iraqi team’s preparations have been something of a contentious subject.

After friendly matches with Mauritania, Gambia, Central African Republic, Yemen, and Iran were shelved at short notice– blamed on the sluggish work of the feckless Iraqi football authorities – the sole warm-up match that was organised before their three crucial World Cup qualifying matches next month, came against a weakened Liberian side, which their local press even dubbed as the ‘understudy’ team.

Not the kind of opponents, Iraq’s Serbian coach Vladimir Petrović had wished for, to test his men, before the team’s first World Cup qualifier with Oman in Muscat on June 4.

A jet-lagged Liberia had, finally, flown into Baghdad Airport, on Sunday afternoon, on a Kenya Airways plane via Accra and Turkey, and were, on their tight schedule, able to fit-in a brief training session at the Al-Shaab Stadium on the same evening. The hastily arranged friendly, that had been originally scheduled to be played on May 24, before it was moved to the following day, and then rearranged for May 27, after the Liberian FA informed the Iraqis that they would be delayed for two days because of complications with visa and travel arrangements.

Another issue was that the match was not played on a FIFA match day, making Liberia’s top foreign based professionals unavailable for the clash, the only two that made it, were Alex Karmo plying his trade in Laos and Herron Berrian in the Cypriot league.

Petrović had three foreign based players – captain Younis Mahmoud, Salam Shaker and Ahmed Ibrahim – absent for the tie, but was able to call on the services of Ali Rahema of Qatari club Al-Wakra and give a start to veteran maestro Nashat Akram, his first game after reversing his decision to retire from international football.

The U-turn from the 28-year-old midfielder, who has 111 appearances for Asood Al-Rafidain after making his debut in 2001 at the age of just 17, came about after clear the air talks with the Serbian coach, who since taking charge of the side, has been searching for a playmaker to play in the centre, to link the rest of the side, much like a spider in the middle of a web.

Al-Shurta’s Nashat, is the best player in the Iraqi league for that very position, which was why Petrović turned to the man the Iraqi faithful call Al-Musikar (“The Musician”). Though Nashat is more akin to an orchestral conductor, setting the tempo, shaping and creating the chances for his team-mates and unifying the team.

However these days, the former golden boy of Iraqi football, is a shadow of his old self, much slower and looking slightly few pounds heavier, and though, his passport states otherwise, some claim that the player is, actually in his 32nd year of his life.

However his inclusion, maybe the spark that will re-ignite Iraq’s fading World Cup qualifying campaign.

Iraq’s Serbian coach, started with Nour Sabri, in goal, with a four man defence with Walid Salim at right back, Ali Adnan at left back, and Ali Rahema and Ali Bahjat in centre of the defence.

The midfield centred around Nashat – with Khaldoun and Saad Abdul-Amir on each of his side, with Humam Tariq on the left, Alaa Abdul-Zahra on the right, and Mustafa Karim, spearheading the attack.

The Iraq FA decided to kick off the game at 16:00 local time, the same time that their qualifying game with Oman will be played, but the lack of advertisement from the football authorities on the date of the game and with temperatures at 42 Celsius, many Iraqi fans stayed away.

Nashat pulled the strings for the home side, and on 11 minutes almost put the lively Alaa Abdul-Zahra clean through on goal, with a beautiful pass with the outside of his right foot, before Mustafa Karim missed the first of many first half chances four minutes later, after another pass from Nashat.

Iraq, with Nashat in a pivotal role, confidently passed the ball around the pitch, while the movement of Alaa and Mustafa in attack were a delight for the 15,000 fans that turned up to watch.

The Africains looked to their front pairing on the counter, with the Iraqi defence at times, unable to keep up with the pace of Abel Burmah and Herron Berrian.

Nashat had a chance on 22 minutes, when Abraham Barshall’s clearing defensive header, landed at his feet, but he could only find the side netting. Then, the Iraqi captain turned provider with a deft flick with the outside of his right foot, finding Mustafa Karim in the box, but he was unable to connect. It came seconds after Saad Abdul-Amir had put the Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya striker through on goal, only for the Iraqi forward to stumble in the box under the pressure of Liberia captain Solomon Wisseh.

Iraq were now taking pot shots at the Liberian goal, and the sparse but boisterous crowd were sensing a goal for the home side, but they continued to miss, chance after chance, with Mustafa Karim the main culprit, with one of his missed efforts, even bringing his despairing Serbian coach onto his feet.

It was clear that Nashat had been given the freedom of the park, protected by two holding midfielders Saad and Khaldoun, and as the game went on, he moved further and further up field. The last chance came from a free-kick from the Iraqi captain, and it brought a save from the opposing keeper .

At start of the second half, Petrović made three changes, bringing on Saif Salman, Osama Ali, and Amjad Radhi for Khaldoun, Saad Abdul-Amir and Mustafa Karim, but after Iraq had dominated the first period, it was the visitors that took the lead on 49 minutes, Ali Bahjat was shrugged off the ball by Abel Burmah, and he squared the ball to Marcus Macauley.

The Monrovia Club Breweries player side-footed the ball into the bottom left hand corner of the net, beating the Iraqi keeper.

Three minutes later, Iraq had their best chance of the game, when Ali Adnan, who created many Iraq’s chances from the left, crossed into the penalty box, there Nashat in a tussle of two captains, got the better of Solomon Wisseh, but his venomous shot from 12 yards was saved point-blank by the man of the match, Nathaniel Sherman.

Iraq having wasted a hatfull of chances, threw on wingers, Hulgard Mulla Mohammed and Haidar Sabah, but continued to miss chances, with Ali Adnan, once again, the instigator, finding Amjad Radhi in the box, but his header was easily saved by Sherman. A minute later, Herron Berrian put the ball over the bar from just over six yards, after connecting to a Marcus Macauley cross.

The home fans and their players, who had 19 goal attempts on the day – sensed it was not going to be their day when a minute after Amjad’s goalbound chip was headed off the line and out of danger by the lofty Alex Karmo on 74 minutes, Nashat somehow put the ball the wrong side of the post, after Hulgard’s mazy run on the by-line had created the opportunity.

Liberia, under their enigmatic coach Frank “Jericho” Nagbe, seen smoking on the bench in the latter stages of the game, were solid and compact, and defended resolutely in the six minutes of injury time that was added on by the Syrian referee Shadi Asfour, to claim the victory over the Iraqis in Baghdad.

Iraq 0-1 Liberia
Marcus Macauley 49

IRAQ: 22 Nour Sabri; 23 Walid Salim (19 Hulgard Mulla Mohammed 58’), 3 Ali Bahjat, 15 Ali Rahema, 6 Ali Adnan; 4 Khaldoun Ibrahim (14 Osama Ali 46’), 21 Saad Abdul-Amir (8 Saif Salman 46’), 11 Humam Tariq (13 Haidar Sabah 66’), 5 Nashat Akram [c], 17 Alaa Abdul-Zahra, 9 Mustafa Karim (18 Amjad Radhi 46; 16 Mohanad Abdul-Rahim 78’)
COACH: Vladimir Petrović (Serbia)

LIBERIA: 1 Nathaniel Sherman; 2 Marcus Macauley, 5 Solomon Wisseh [c], 13 Alex Karmo, 12 Trokon Zeon (23 Francis Jaballah 81’); 4 Eddie Wulue (15 Mohamed Varney 69’), 6 Abraham Barshall (19 Myers Garlo 88’), 7 Sam Koliie (21 Alvin Macconel 83’), 11 Aloysius Syumujila; 8 Herron Berrian, 22 Abel Burmah (17 Samuel Thompson 89’)
COACH: Frank Wontee “Jericho” Nagbe

Referee: Shadi Asfour (Syria)
Linesmen: Anas Subeh (Syria) & Hussam Al-Hamad Al-Frih (Syria)
Fourth Official: Falah Abid (Iraq)
Cautions: Abraham Barshall 79’, Myers Garlo 90’ (+5)