AL AIN // At the end, it was the handful of Al Dhafra fans who left happier from Al Ain’s party on Friday after Makhete Diop’s late equaliser spoilt the first match at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.
Curiously, the two teams also featured in a scoreless draw in the inaugural match at Al Dhafra’s Hamdan bin Zayed Stadium on September 25, 2008, so the result evens out an old score.
“It was indeed disappointing not to win this game for our fans,” said Ismail Ahmed, the Al Ain centre-back who created a piece of history by becoming the first player to score at the stadium.
He could have won the game for them, but his second goal was disallowed for offside with replays showing an incorrect call from the linesman.
Ahmed said: “What can I do when the referee has disallowed the goal? Of course, I am very happy to be the first player to score in this new stadium, but it could have been of more value if we had won.
“I will remember this for a long time. To become the scorer of the first goal never crossed my mind. Someone else could have scored much earlier for us, but that didn’t happen. So I can consider myself lucky.”
Asamoah Gyan, Omar Abdulrahman, Helal Saeed and Diaky Ibrahim all had opportunities to get in to the record books, but it was Ahmed who made history when he rose above the defence to head home a corner, with the clock at 74 minutes, 51 seconds.
More than 15,000 fans turned up for the game but most would have left a bit dejected, not by the stadium but by the result.
“The expectations from the fans were naturally high. Still we can take some positives from this match as we didn’t lose,” said Khalid Essa, the Al Ain goalkeeper.
“The players were in very high spirits going in to this game and I think we played really well. We did everything right but score. We also conceded a goal because we thought we had won the game after Ismail had scored.”
Al Ain will continue to do most of their training at their facility at Khalifa International Stadium, where the club’s executive offices are located.
Whenever they have home matches on the schedule, they will train in the new stadium on the two days prior to the tie.
Abdulsalam Jumaa, the Dhafra captain and veteran midfielder, said his players enjoyed the occasion and the opportunity to play in the stadium’s inaugural match, particularly in such an imposing new facility.
“It is a wonderful feeling,” he said. “Obviously, the Al Ain fans must have been disappointed at the end result but, for us, it was a good one. The one point was important for us because it keeps us above Al Ain.”