Friday 25 May 2018

From the Stands: Energised Iraq leave England in the shade

Eamonn Sweeney, John Greene, Jerome Reilly and Sean Ryan

The FIFA under 20 World Cup finals in Turkey, which finished last night with a France-Uruguay final, have made for fascinating, exciting and slightly disturbing viewing.

The disturbing part was the dire showing of England who finished bottom of their group behind Iraq, Chile and Egypt without winning a game. This follows a disastrous performance in the UEFA under 21 championships where they finished pointless after losses to Italy, Norway and Israel.

It is clear evidence that the English game is continuing to fall behind internationally. The dystopian future this portends should be of grave concern to Irish fans as the English system is still where our brightest and best get their football education. Hopefully this will serve as a wake-up call, though on past evidence football folk from these islands will continue to believe that largely illusory qualities of fighting spirit and determination can compensate for our technical shortcomings.

The most heartening aspect of the tournament was the performance of Iraq who made it to the semi-finals where they were three minutes away from victory against Uruguay before conceding an equaliser and losing 7-6 on penalties. It hasn't been easy for footballers in Iraq. Their Premier League has been called off three times in the last 30 years due to war while former sports minister Uday 'Saddam's Young Lad' Hussein, was known to imprison and torture players for poor displays. But their performance in Turkey, which made Iraq the first Asian team to get to the last four since Japan reached the final in 1999, seems to indicate a bright future for the game in a football-mad country.

In particular, the name Ali Adnan is worth keeping in mind. Iraq's left-back, known as 'The Beast,' has attracted attention from Arsenal and Sevilla but appears likely to sign for Galatasaray. The way the boy from Baghdad, whose uncle Ali Kadhim is fifth on the country's all-time international scoring list, slalomed through England's defence before scoring an injury-time equaliser suggests fans of the Turkish giants have a treat in store.

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Another seat has been filled at the Irish Sports Council's boardroom table following the appointment last week of Mary Dorgan, an assistant chief executive at the Health and Safety Authority.

She has almost 30 years of management experience in the public and private sector, which she can now presumably put to good use at a time of change in the sports council.

From Co Waterford, Dorgan's lengthy CV includes stints with FAS as a regional director and Waterford Crystal as a HR manager. She has plenty of board experience too. Currently a director of Red Kettle Theatre Company, she has also sat on the HSA board, and the board of Waterford Institute of Technology.

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THE cream of European golf gathered at Carton House for the Irish Open with the added incentive of picking up a new BMW if they aced the picturesque par three penultimate hole of the Montgomerie Course, but the lavish bonus prize eluded them.

Step forward 15-year-old junior Carton member Oisin Devereux from Maynooth who joined other members of the club the day after the Open finished to test themselves against the same set-up as the pros played on the final round, same pin positions and from the back tees.

Oisin got his hole in one at the 176-yard tester with the gleaming Beemer still on a plinth behind him. But of course there was no presentation of a set of car keys – just a certificate marking his achievement, a whole heap of satisfaction and a memory to last a lifetime.

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FOR 22 minutes in last week's Airtricity League game against Limerick, both Bohemian full-backs wore jerseys with the number 22. Young debutant Zein Albahadlie was listed to wear 20, and quickly changed when the linesman spotted Zein's mistake.

It was a comical moment, but it is not without precedent even at the highest level. In December 1995, for the European Championship play-off against the Republic of Ireland in Anfield, the Netherlands lined out with two Number 6s – and it stayed that way for the entire 90 minutes.

Irish Independent

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