ABU DHABI // When the siren sounded for the final time to signal the end of a breathless if not breathtaking derby between the Emirati members of Abu Dhabi and Al Ain clubs, the players who took to the ice to congratulate and commiserate each other considerably outnumbered those who had come to watch them.
Not that they minded. The newly-formed Emirates Hockey League is going to take time to make an impact but the ingredients are definitely in place for this isolated winter sport on the UAE calendar to attract decent crowds to the three chilly venues that will be staging the matches. Teemu Taruvuori, a native of Finland but now coaching the team of Emiratis who are seeking to outstrip their expatriate counterparts in the capital city, is confident that all sections of the community here will soon embrace what he and his fellow coaches have to offer.
Taruvuori, delighted to make a winning home debut by virtue of a 3-2 verdict over their plucky Al Ain opponents, is eager to monitor the effects of an official launch of the capital's Emirati outfit in the middle of next month. "Unless we have proper marketing of our sport then the people of Abu Dhabi will not know about us, so how can we expect them to come and watch us?" he said. "The launch should enable us to get our message out to the public and then we will be looking to attract more and more spectators to this excellent venue."
The new Abu Dhabi coach was not exaggerating the impressive facilities at the Zayed Sports City rink and it was such a shame that a tough and often tense fight for local pride should not have been witnessed by more than the 24 brave souls who ventured there on Wednesday evening. There was little between the two teams throughout the three periods of 15 minutes as Abu Dhabi did just enough to put their 5-2 loss to Al Ain Vipers - Al Ain's expatriate team - behind them.
Two goals by Juma al Dhaheri and a third by Muftah al Dhaheri enabled Abu Dhabi to squeeze home after Al Ain responded with goals from Obaid Ali al Muharammi and Fasal Mohammed al Blushi. "It's a big relief to get our first win under our belts because our players were nervous tonight. Their opponents are their friends because they all know each other and the Al Ain coach was working here before me," said Taravuori.
That Al Ain coach is a Serbian called Marko Zidarevic and he lamented the shortage of personnel at his disposal as his players ran out of steam when they had the Abu Dhabi goal under siege in the final period. "They tired badly before the end, it's understandable because we did not have enough players out there," he said. The league continues this afternoon when Al Ain Vipers host Abu Dhabi Scorpions.
@Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Al Ain Vipers v Abu Dhabi Scorpions, Al Ain Ice Rink, 3pm