The sudden death of Theyab Awana, the second professional football player killed in a car crash in three days, left his teammates and coaches stunned and grieving yesterday.
"I don't have any words," said Mahdi Ali, the Olympic team coach, who worked with Awana last season at Baniyas. "I may be able to talk at a later time but for now I just can't find any words."
Awana, a 21-year-old winger, was killed on Sunday night as he returned from Al Ain to Abu Dhabi after training with the national team. Just two days earlier, Saeed Al Noobi, a 20-year-old midfielder for Al Dhafra, was killed in a crash on Muroor Road in Abu Dhabi.
Awana was well-known for scoring a back-heeled penalty kick in a friendly against Lebanon in July that became an instant sensation on YouTube.
Srecko Katanec, the former national team coach, who brought Awana into the national team for the first time in a friendly against Manchester City in 2009, was shocked to hear of his death.
"It is a disaster for everyone when a young man of 21 dies," Katanec said. "When a guy dies like this, it's not easy to accept."
Mohammed Fawzi, who played with Awana at Baniyas and captained the national team in Awana's final game last week, said UAE football had lost a member of the family.
"He was one of the most talented players and one of the liveliest and loved players off the field," Fawzi said.
Another teammate from the national team, Mohammed Al Shehhi, of Al Wahda, said Awana was both talented and well-liked.
"We are all deeply saddened and shocked by this loss," he said. "As a player, he was a real talent. He had a great future ahead of him.
"As a friend, he was the kind of guy who can keep you entertained and a guy who will be prepared to run any distance should you need some help from him."
Ibrahim Diaky, the Al Jazira captain, described Awana as a talent who was going to be a superstar of UAE football.
"Theyab was a really special person, and not just as a footballer because there was just something about that guy which made him stand out," Diaky said.
"There was a special feeling about him, I don't know why, and that is one of the reasons this is so hard to take in.
"He was going to do some great things for Baniyas and the national team. I have no doubt about that at all. He was a brilliant player who had such a huge future ahead of him. He would have won many caps for this country because he was an incredible talent."
Ismail Rashid, the former national team manager, said he had come to know Awana well over the years.
"He was one of the most respectful players in the team. He was a polite guy, always smiling," Rashid said. "He had a good attitude with everybody. So we are really, really shocked."
Hamdan Al Kamali, who played with Awana on the team that won the Under 19 Asian Cup in 2008, was devastated by the news.
"Besides being a team player, he was a brother and a close friend, Al Kamali said. "He was the jovial type and everybody enjoyed his company. But now we have lost him forever."
Athletes from outside of football were affected by his death, as well.
"This is a big loss for the UAE. He was a national hero," said Mohammed Al Balooshi, an Emirati motorcycle racer. "This is really bad news. I can't believe it. I still can't believe this news. It's still to soak in. He was so young and had a great future ahead of him.
"But God has different plans for everybody. Man, this is really bad news. My heart really goes out to Awana's family, his parents and to the UAE. The country has lost a true star."
Several other UAE athletes have died in road accidents, including football players Khamis Matar of Al Wahda, in 2005, and Khalid Abdulaziz, of Al Ain, in 2002, and the volleyball player Khalid Awadh, who played for Al Jazira, in 2006.
* Additional reporting by Ahmed Rizvi, Neil Cameron and Paul Oberjuerge