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Wenger expects tough battle for targets

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By ESPN Staff

Iraq pleads for Akram to be given permit

BAGHDAD, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Iraq has appealed against Britain's decision to refuse the country's top soccer player a work permit to join Manchester City,. Nashat Akram's hopes of becoming the first Iraqi to play in the Premier League were dashed last week when the Home Office (Interior Ministry) rejected his application, saying Iraq was not ranked highly enough in the world. 'We have delivered an appeal to the British authorities to allow Nashat to play in Britain,' Iraqi Youth and Sport Minister Jasem Mohammed Jaafar told Reuters by telephone. 'We made this appeal a week ago and we expect to receive an answer in the coming days.' Jaafar said the matter was now being raised with the British ambassador in Baghdad through the Iraqi Foreign Ministry. He said the case was being pursued also with the office of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the Iraqi parliament. 'The government has shown its readiness to deliver any guarantees that the British authorities may request,' he said. Akram, a runner-up in last year's Asian player of the year awards, was told his application for a permit had failed because Iraq fell outside the top 70 in the FIFA rankings, despite their Asian Cup triumph last July. The 21-year-old midfielder had been instrumental in Iraq's victory over Saudi Arabia in the final in Jakarta which brought rare unity to the shattered nation, with Shi'ites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds pouring into the streets to celebrate. His performances also impressed City boss Sven-Goran Eriksson who wanted to sign him after a recent trial in northwest England. 'It was my big dream to become the first Iraqi player to play in the English Premier League,' Akram told Reuters last Saturday. 'I have the ambition to show the skills of Iraqi players in the strongest league in the world.'