Saturday 20th January
Having found out that the opening game had been played in front of a 50,000 crowd and that entry was free. A decision needed to be made as to what time to arrive for todays matches which included the hosts. Today’s stadium would hold only around 25,000 so I decided to arrive around 3 hours before kick off. Sure enough the place was busy with long queues of Emiratis dressed in their traditional white ankle length dishdashas (with mobile phone in one hand connected to an earpiece), waiting patiently to get in. The stadium itself was in the midst of a Guggenheimesque cladding being applied, giving three quarters of it a futuristic look whilst the other quarter looked like a building site.
Sure enough ticket stands around the stadium were handing out tickets. A face value was shown of 10 dirhams ( One pound 50 pence). Enquiring where I could use my ticket proved problematic as I was directed from one person to another. With two hours to kick off I gave up and entered the stadium. It was almost full. Despite the fact that Emirates were not due to kick off for another 4 hours. The first game was Oman v Kuwait. Oman always seemed in control and appeared happy with a 1-0 lead. A shock equaliser in the 81st minute brought them to life and within 60 seconds they were ahead again. With six points they were now through to the semis.
In the distance I could here what sounded like a Rapper, (it was actually the guy from the video on the first page!) (Muezzin) chanting the call to prayer (azzan). The sound continued throughout the whole of the game and I was intrigued to know if this was the religion of football and if he was really reciting from the U.A.E. Rothmans!
Reading the papers I noticed that Bruno Metsu the U.A.E. coach had highlighted areas for improvement, the main one being that his players pass to each other. (Well they do say it is a simple game). So, seeing the U.A.E. team kick balls into the crowd as a gesture of goodwill, just before kick off I was surprised to see two of them fail to find any of the 25,000 spectators with their kick. What chance of finding one of only 10 on the pitch.
A frantic start saw the U.A.E. awarded a fortunate penalty as the ball skidded off the turf from a corner onto a Yemeni’s hand. The lead was doubled midway through the second half. They then began to relax and the mistakes flowed. A late goal from Yemen was not enough but the warning signs were there. They need to concentrate for 90 minutes and to make the ball work harder for them.