A UAE under 16 football team staged a demonstration against the organisers of a Swedish tournament they were controversially knocked out of last weekend.
The Dubai-based Precor FC were given a bye into the last 32 of the Gothia Cup, described as "the world's biggest and most international youth football tournament", in Gothenburg, because their opponents from the previous round failed to turn up for their scheduled match.
Precor a were awarded a 3-0 victory over Liria KF of Serbia, and the UAE teenagers were preparing themselves to play Academia Alfaro Moreno of Ecuador on Thursday for the chance to get to the last 16 in their age group.
But when they turned up for the last-32 tie, they were told the original decision to hand them the Liria game had been overturned andthey had to face the Serbs after all. Precor lost 5-4 on penalties after the game ended goalless.
The 20 players and their coaches were so enraged by the unexplained rule change they formed a makeshift picket line outside the organisers' headquarters to demand answers as to why this had happened. But by the time they received an official apology, it was too late to reinstate them into the competition.
"I don't want this to sound like sour grapes, but I really feel for the boys who have been magnificent and none of this is their fault," Derek Burke, the Precor head coach, said."We turned up for our game on Thursday as we had been told to but the Serbs didn't show and we got no explanation. So then we were told that we had been given a bye and were through to the next round, the last 32, and we would have been playing the team from Ecuador, who we were stronger than.
"So the boys were all prepared and focused on these opponents, but then, maybe half an hour before kick-off, the Serbs turned up and it was only then that I realised we had to play the original game. I tried to complain about it, but was told there was nothing I could do."
The Gothia Cup was first held in 1975 and is for boys and girls from 11 to19 years of age. This year, a record 1,567 teams from 72 different countries took part.
Precor had won two of their three group games.
Tarek Khalifa, the assistant coach, said: "You can't blame the boys for being angry and wanting to go down there to demand an explanation. … I am sure we would have got to the last 16 and then, who knows how far we could have gone because we have good players with a superb attitude."
The players are now in Denmark for the Dana Cup, which runs from July 25-30. "The boys were really down, however, the great thing about football is that there is always another chance to put things right and we have this immediate opportunity to try to forget what happened in Sweden," Burke said.