MANCHESTER // When the UAE walk on to the pitch to face Uruguay at Old Trafford tonight, several Emirati players and staff are likely to remember two of their compatriots who are not with them.
The core of this age-group team who earned so many memorable victories in international competition, and who won the country's first berth in an Olympic football tournament, just two years ago included the goalkeeper Yousuf Abdulrahman and the midfielder Theyab Awana.
Tonight, those two will be the missing men. The former nearly died in a car accident in September 2010. The latter died in an accident in September last year.
Awana's death hit the team particularly hard; the players all hope Abdulrahman may make a full recovery and will someday rejoin them.
"When Theyab passed away, it was a very, very bad moment for the team and also for me," Mahdi Ali, the UAE Olympic coach, said a few months ago. "I had a strong relationship with Theyab, not just as a player, but like my younger brother, my son, my friend. During this long time with Theyab, and even these days, when we are training or doing some exercise, he's always in my mind.
"When I see Amer [Abdulrahman], I see him. They were always together. Theyab is always in our heart and mind. You cannot forget a guy like that."
Both Awana and Yousuf Abdulrahman were regulars in the team that reached the quarter-finals of the World Youth (Under 20) Championships in 2009; Awana scored an equaliser in the 93rd minute of a group-stage draw with South Africa.
Both also played in the 2010 U23 Gulf Cup. Abdulrahman's accident came shortly after the event, and he had only just emerged from a coma when the U23 team took the silver medal at the 2010 Asian Games in November.
Awana played in every game at the Asian Games, and scored the decisive goal in a victory over Uzbekistan.
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