Dubai: UAE coach Mahdi Ali was left wishing all his games were played outside the country after a tiny crowd witneesed the UAE’s 2-2 friendly draw with Uzbekistan at Al Shabab on Friday.
Around 200 Uzbek fans sang to an otherwise empty stadium, where the attendance, normally announced over the PA system before full-time, was mysteriously omitted.
With Uzbekistan set to play Qatar in Doha on Tuesday in a 2014 World Cup qualifier, the visitors could have been forgiven for holding back, but their support was unsuppressed.
The UAE fans on the other hand, with their team having long since missed out on a place in the Brazil World Cup under previous coach Srecko Katanec, look to be continuing their boycott of matches into former Olympics team boss Ali’s regime — a fact that has infuriated the new coach.
“I had hoped we would have played in a better environment,” Ali said. “When you see that the stadium is empty and the crowd for the opponent’s team is bigger than the crowd of your team and you’re playing at home — I wish we could play all our games outside [the UAE].
“It’s very strange because Egypt are also playing a friendly with Congo in Sharjah tonight [Friday] and I’ve heard that even though the tickets were a high price, the stadium is full. Here there are no tickets, entry is free and yet no one is here. You better ask them why.
“When your national team is playing, you don’t need an invite. I don’t know why nobody came but I’m really disappointed with that. It could be the fact the match is on TV, that could be one of the reasons.”
Ali’s comments come after reports Etisalat Pro-League clubs were paying their fans Dh25-Dh50 to attend matches, with a Dh25 bonus for the most vocal. Abdullah Al Junaibi of the Pro-League Committee put the practice down to local hospitality, but it’s clear these customs haven’t yet spread to the UAE national team.
On the pitch, goals from the UAE’s Esmail Mattar and Saeed Al Khatheri were cancelled out by Sanjar Tursunov and Server Djeparov as honours ended even in the first match between the two teams since the UAE denied Uzbekistan a place at the 2012 Olympics with a 3-2 away qualifying win in March.
The UAE and Uzbekistan have also been drawn together — along with Hong Kong and Vietnam — in their 2015 Asian Cup qualifying group, which starts in February, so the friendly was a good opportunity for both teams to lay down a marker.
Asked to evaluate his team’s performances after three games in charge, having already lost 1-0 away to Japan and won 3-0 at home to Kuwait last month, Ali said: “I think you have to ask this question to the crowd, journalists and officials.
“It’s too soon to evaluate after three games and I don’t want to judge myself, others should be the judge. But personally I’m happy with the three games.”