x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Pioneer Akram wants to fly the flag for Iraq at FC Twente

The player says he feels like an ambassador for his country as Bora Mulutinovic's side plot a route to the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup.

JOHANNESBURG // Nashat Akram, the first Iraqi player to earn a move to a club in western Europe after signing for FC Twente in Holland, says he feels like an ambassador for his country as Bora Mulutinovic's side plot a route to the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup. Akram, who will fly to Holland for a press conference immediately after the tournament, was the centre of attention after Iraq's goalless draw against hosts South Africa and feels a responsibility to represent his country on the world stage.

"It's like I have a diplomatic passport," he joked. "I'm the first Iraqi player to play in Europe at a high level. And FC Twente are a very good team - this season they were second for the cup and second for the league and they played in Champions League. I'm so proud to play for them now. "I've spoken with the coach Steve McClaren already. He's a very big name, a very big coach and it's a big challenge for me to show people I have good quality and good technique to play at that level."

Akram certainly impressed in Iraq's opening game of the tournament in Johannesburg but the prospect of facing European champions Spain in the next fixture tomorrow is an altogether different challenge, especially as the Spanish include some of the greatest midfielders in world football. Akram added: "It's a very, very tough game next because Spain have very good quality players and are a very good team. We're doing our best, though - and this is football, nobody knows the result in advance.

"For me I'm just so proud to play in the Confederations Cup. I've played so long in the national team and we've done well, we've been champions in the Asian Cup and we want to do more. "For myself I want to play against very good players like Xavi and [Andres] Iniesta and do as well as I can. We believe we can reach the semi-finals." sports@thenational.ae