ABU DHABI // Al Ahli, the inaugural UAE Pro League champions, yesterday received a stinging rebuke from the leader of the nation's Football Association for not taking the Club World Cup seriously enough. Mohammed Khalfan al Rumaithi blamed the Dubai team for failing to push on from last season's domestic title win and being badly prepared to go under the international spotlight alongside visiting teams from around the world.
Rumaithi was commenting on poor attendances in the early stages of the Fifa showpiece tournament in Abu Dhabi. He thinks that gates would have been significantly higher had Ahli remained involved longer than the opening match in which they were comprehensively defeated by the New Zealand amateurs of Auckland City. "We dreamt of a better participation by Al Ahli here," said al Rumaithi. "They did not plan properly for this competition. I urge whoever wins this year's league to prepare themselves well.
"The longer the host team stay in, the better for the tournament. This is no joke. This is a hugely prestigious event. Let us all take a lesson from this first year and not repeat the mistakes we have made when we organise it again next year." Rumaithi took an apologetic stance alongside Fifa's hierarchy at a press conference to discuss the success or otherwise the first of Abu Dhabi's two Club World Cups.
"We know that a good job has been done, but for us in the UAE we always seek excellence. And to do that the first task is to increase the number of spectators." Those negative comments were dismissed by Sepp Blatter, Fifa's president, and Chuck Blazer, who chaired the organising committee on behalf of Fifa Blatter said: "You are being a bit too humble when you say you need to do better next time. That is not possible because the organisational skills, the hospitality, the stadia, transport and other arrangements have been at the top level.
"I can only congratulate the government of Abu Dhabi and the Football Association here. The lack of spectators in the early rounds was mainly due to the early elimination of the UAE team." Blazer took the view that competition has been a learning curve for the local community. "The public will be responding to the fact that this is an event that they should not have missed. I don't think that we will be facing these issues next year. The fans will want to sample the great experience that this has been."
The aggregate attendance for the eight-match tournament reached the 100,000 mark after Barcelona's semi-final against Atlante on Wednesday night and there is a probability of the figure going past 140,000 if the expected full house for the final materialises tomorrow night. The Club World Cup was secured for the UAE by Abu Dhabi Sports Council at a Fifa Congress meeting in Sydney, Australia in May of last year. Leading the delegation that day was Mohammed al Mahmood, the organisation's secretary general.
He was disappointed to see the capital city's two sparkling stadia sparsely populated in the first week of the tournament and promised that "the picture will be totally different next year". Mahmood ruled out offering free entry to the preliminary matches, however. "We are not allowed to do that. The tickets must be paid for and collected in order to gain admission, but we will certainly consider reducing the ticket prices for the less attractive matches," he said. "But if we get strong representation from the UAE we shouldn't have a problem. I think this is a great lesson for all of our local teams. If you win the league it does not end with the final whistle of the league season. It ends with the final whistle of the Club World Cup and they should remain focused until their commitments in this tournament are over."