Al Wasl's players hurdled advertising hoardings at Zabeel Stadium. And one by one they kissed the image of the ailing former coach, Bruno Metsu, that adorned a banner sending good wishes to him.
Al Wasl must build on Bruno Metsu's groundwork
His departure has not diminished Al Wasl fans' expectations - but the team's development is still a work in progress
One by one, Al Wasl's players hurdled Zabeel Stadium's advertising hoardings and ran towards their celebrating fans.
Having taken the lead against Al Dhafra, the goal could be dedicated to only one man. One by one, they kissed the image of the ailing former coach Bruno Metsu that adorned a banner with a message of good wishes to him.
It was the high point, and most touching moment, of the evening for the hosts.
The Pro League match on Sunday was the first since Metsu's request to resign was accepted by the Wasl board, and the evening was a difficult one for the home team, and ultimately unrewarding.
Partly because of Metsu's plight, and thanks to a paltry crowd, the atmosphere was subdued at the start, but the affection that he is held in was evident.
Before kick off, three teenage fans wished the Frenchman a quick recovery and hoped he would be back, despite the club's official announcement of his departure on Saturday.
They wisely insisted it was too soon, and disrespectful, to call for a permanent replacement of the interim coach, Gilles Morisseau. Suggestions of a Diego Maradona return, already dismissed by the club, were roundly laughed off.
The match showed both the passion and apathy that afflict the Pro League.
In the main stand, the hard-core fans chanted along to the ceaseless beat of a drum. But some fans ambled into the ground halfway through the first half and others left well before the final whistle. In almost ideal weather conditions, fewer than 1,500 fans showed up.
And they were subjected to a substandard match.
Wasl were favourites and hopes were raised of a comfortable win when the Egyptian striker Shikabala scored in the 23rd minute.
The mood noticeably lifted, as did the level of noise. One of the few positives of a small crowd is that jokes, complaints and insults are often heard clearly. As can incidents taking place on the pitch.
One Al Dhafra player, having let out a painfully exaggerated scream after a hefty tackle, was mercilessly mimicked by Wasl's fans every time he touched the ball.
Shikabala was cheered at every opportunity. At other times, home players were berated for wasting time so early on in the match.
Among home fans, there was concern that the players are distracted.
"Metsu is an accomplished coach, he has experience of managing Senegal at the World Cup and won the Asian Champions League with Al Ain, his influence on the team will be missed," said Khalid, a Wasl fan. "But players are professionals and should carry on regardless.
"Our foreign players in particular have been very solid, but some of our younger home-based ones need a little more focus."
The appointment of Metsu had shown the club was intent on banishing last season's often shambolic performances. Despite losing him to illness, the fans' expectations remain lofty, a state of affairs common to the country's big clubs.
"Maradona came and didn't do anything for the club," Khalid said. "Al Wasl is too big a club to be struggling in eighth or ninth place; we must challenge for the title."
The equaliser seemed to knock such confidence out of Wasl's fans and players. The drum kept on beating, and the chants of "Waslawi" continued, but with one misplaced pass following another, the previously jocular fans became increasingly agitated.
As easily as the jokes could be heard in the first half, the groans and complaints were in the second. The match finished 1-1 after a somewhat dispiriting second half for the home fans who, despite Dhafra's fine recent form, clearly expected to claim all three points. After the match, Lucas Neill, Al Wasl's Australian captain, called the match "untidy" with "not a lot of good passes".
He was being kind: it was a poor advertisement for the Pro League and scant reward for the loyal fans who turned up. "This was meant to be an easy match," one angry fan said at full time.
The disappointing draw was no disaster, however, keeping Al Wasl unbeaten and in third place in the table. But tougher challenges are on the horizon for Morisseau.
"We have yet to meet a top team since Metsu left. Al Dhafra have come here to defend mostly," Khalid said. "We should be judged against the best sides, the tougher matches will give a better indication of how good we are."
The next fixture? Away to champions Al Ain on Saturday.
They don't come much tougher than that.
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