As the UAE celebrates a stirring second Gulf Cup success, a forlorn Awana Ahmad Al Mosabi may be wondering at his home in Bani Yas as to what might have been. If destiny had not intervened, his son Diab Awana could have been very much a part of Mahdi Ali’s golden boys, who are soaking up all the adulation at the moment.
It’s been close to a year and-a-half since Awana, one of the most promising footballers in the country and the soul of the young UAE team that Ali had been grooming, lost his life in a car accident in September 2011. A player of Bani Yas Club, Awana was one of the livewires of the team, which had already become well decorated: a silver medal at the 2010 Asian Games, the 2006 Under-17 Gulf Cup, the 2008 Under-19 Asian Cup and the 2010 U23 Gulf Cup. He was also part of the 2009 U20 World Cup squad that made the quarter-finals.
When the UAE Olympic squad began their qualification journey back in 2011, Awana featured in the first of the games — a surprise goalless draw against the Australian Socceroos, which possibly set the tone for their successful campaign. Four days later, Awana was involved in a fatal crash while driving back from training in Al Ain.
During their crucial pre-Olympics game against Uzbekistan, the UAE team sported a photo of Awana on their shirts — something which their skipper Hamdan Al Kamali said fired the boys up. Al Mosabi, who was invited to the team’s reception after they qualified for London 2012, said that his son would be very much with them in spirit — a quality that was certainly not found wanting in a team which took on football heavyweights Great Britain, Uruguay and Senegal.
The famous back-heeled penalty kick that he took successfully against Lebanon in a World Cup qualifier had provoked derision in some quarters — but possibly also gave an insight into Awana’s psyche.
He had this ability to think differently, something that coaches often look for — that little element of unpredictability that can prise open a rival defence or catch them unawares in a set-piece situation. Barely 21 at the time of his death, Awana had a reputation for his close control and scoring abilities as a winger, and was already one of the few players who was alternating between the under-23 and the senior team.
As his close friend Al Kamali and the rest of the UAE boys now look to raise the bar for their goals in their careers after the Gulf Cup success, Awana remains a name only in memory today. It’s certainly time to spare a thought for this audacious talent, who was a great loss to the game of football.