Samir Nasri goes with the flow in Al Ain as party continues for Manchester City
When the team sheets were announced, his name got the loudest cheer by some distance. His customary pre-game prayers received an appreciative round of applause.
And his first few touches were greeted loudly.
If Samir Nasri has been feeling down over the past few days, then the crowd at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium certainly did their best to cheer him up last night.
Whether their encouragement, and a 3-0 win over Al Ain, lifted his spirits is debatable.
It has been a bittersweet week for the Frenchman.
On Sunday, he scored the opening goal in Manchester City’s 2-0 win over West Ham at the Etihad Stadium, clinching the team’s second Premier League title in three years.
Two days later, he was brought back down to earth when he failed to make the France squad for the Fifa World Cup. “It’s a little bit hard to accept,” Nasri said earlier this week.
“I need to take some time now to think about the national team because it’s been twice now that they take away a World Cup from me.”
The decision was certainly surprising, given that Nasri was one of City’s outstanding players of the season.
The celebratory atmosphere around the stadium was somewhat dampened by Manuel Pellegrini’s decision not to start any of his Brazil-bound players.
Nasri would not have been the only City player wondering what might have been.
French teammate Gael Clichy was also left out of manager Didier Deschamps’s squad, while three years ago many would have predicted that Micah Richards and Jack Rodwell would be regulars in the England squad by now.
With an eye on Sunday’s President’s Cup final against Al Ahli, Al Ain withdrew their first-choice players, chief among them Omar Abdulrahman, on 20 minutes.
With none of City’s World Cup contingent even making the bench, most eyes were on Nasri.
In the circumstances, his performance was commendable. There were few signs of the moping that the French manager said contributed to his omission from the World Cup squad.
In fact, he was one of the more energetic players on show.
He executed one of the flashiest passes of the first half, a first-time layoff to Aleksandr Kolarov that ultimately came to nothing. He probed, ran and tackled, in the final match of a very long season.
On 37 minutes, he missed one of City’s best openings, hooking a shot over the bar.
In truth, the quality of football was pedestrian, and soon enough the first of several waves went around the stands.
Not surprisingly, it was scoreless at half time.
Nasri was one of the few bright spots, but few were left in doubt that his World Cup omission has left Nasri a downcast figure, the beaming smile from Sunday’s celebrations gone.
In the 53rd minute, his mistake presented guest player Ismail Matar with a run at goal, that resulted in a free-kick that Al Ain nearly converted into a lead.
Ten minutes later, City took control. A stunning pass by Nasri with the outside of his right foot put the ball through to Marcos Lopes and the highly rated academy player finished confidently.
On 78 minutes Stevan Jovetic made it 2-0, and immediately afterward, before the crowd had settled down, Nasri was replaced by Jordi Hiwula, who would go on to score a late penalty.
The Frenchman quietly handed the captain’s armband to Richards and slipped off.
The intended standing ovation never came, a downbeat end to a disappointing few days.
Nasri’s season is over. As is his international career, perhaps.
Watching teammates Vincent Kompany, Joe Hart, Yaya Toure and so many others play in Brazil will not be easy.
“That’s life,” Nasri said with a smile in his post-match interview.
For City, the party goes on.
There was yet another presentation and within minutes, fireworks lit up the Al Ain sky. The crowd of 21,437 left Hazza bin Zayed Stadium happy enough.
Whether Nasri did as well, only he knows for certain.
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Published: May 15, 2014 04:00 AM