x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Akram turns on the style against Sharjah

The Iraqi midfielder creates both goals as Al Gharafa sees off Sharjah in the Asian Champions League.

Al Gharafa's Iraqi international Nashat Akram was the star man against Sharjah.
Al Gharafa's Iraqi international Nashat Akram was the star man against Sharjah.

Nashat Akram, during his brief stint with Manchester City, was described as an "elegant footballer" by the then City chief Sven Goran Eriksson. Eriksson's words, however, could not sway the bosses at the Home Office and the Iraqi ace was denied a work permit. Dejected, he moved to the Qatari league and City's loss has been Al Gharafa's gain since. Akram's services have been significant in Gharafa gaining the lead in the Qatari league, and his worth on the continental stage was in evidence on Tuesday night when the Qatari side blanked hosts Sharjah 2-0 in a Group B match of the AFC Champions League. The Iraqi was the source of both the goals, the first with an audacious back-heel and the second with a piercing lob. Nasser Kamil took advantage of the first to put the visitors ahead in the 16th minute and Brazilian Clemerson surged in to make the second count in the 52nd minute. That Akram would be the most influential player of the game was evident from the opening seconds as he kept the Sharjah defence guessing with his nifty touches and frequent feeds to the two men upfront. The hosts could not hold the fort for long against his creativity and they caved in just over a quarter of an hour into the game. The 2007 Asian Cup winner waltzed his way into the crowded box and then cleverly back-heeled for Nasser Kamil, who finished off with a ferocious volley to the right of the stranded Sharjah keeper Rashid Ahmed. Nawaf Mubarak threatened to equalise the very next minute with a booming left-footer, but Sharjah never got close thereafter in the first-session despite all their industriousness.

At the other end, the visitors should have added a couple more, but Clemerson missed in front of an open goal in the 35th minute. The Brazilian was on target in the 39th minute, but Rashid Ahmed had the shot covered. The Sharjah keeper did well again a minute later, punching away Saad Al Shammri's probing long-ranger. Coming back after the break, Sharjah went in chase of the equaliser, leaving their defence exposed and Akram made them pay for the folly. With almost the entire Sharjah team in the opposite half, Akram seized the opportunity to lob the ball upfront for Clemerson. The Brazilian charged down, flicked the ball over the advancing Rashid Ahmed and tapped in Gharafa's insurance. Sharjah fought on gamely and Jean Carlos almost scored in the 88th minute, but the Gharafa keeper Abdulaziz Ali did well to keep out his header. A minute later, Rashid Ahmed denied the visitors their third goal of the night with a brilliant stop, diving in to pluck the ball from Ahmed Fares' feet. The defeat was Sharjah's second in two games of the AFC Champions League; they lost 3-1 in the opener at Persepolis. Things are unlikely to get any better for the 'Kings' as they clearly lack the ammunition to make an impression on this stage, especially in the injury-forced absence of their talismanic striker Anderson. For Gharafa, these were a welcome three points after the loss to Saudi Arabia's Al Shabab in the opening round last week.

arizvi@thenational.ae