x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Remote access on TV is strong for UAE's armchair fans

Sitting on a sofa and watching television can be painful, if it is for 15 hours, but quality fare can make up for it.

UAE football fans are spoilt for choice and plenty to look at when it comes to spending the recreation time.
UAE football fans are spoilt for choice and plenty to look at when it comes to spending the recreation time.

No wonder our football stadiums are empty.

The sport's very own Paradox of Choice states that the more matches there are on television, the less likely it is a fan will rise from the sofa.

Today, watching football in the UAE is almost exclusively an armchair activity. But it is rarely to do with football in the UAE.

Thanks to the blanket coverage of the leading European leagues afforded by Abu Dhabi TV and Al Jazeera, who has time for a trip to Al Dhafra v Al Wahda?

On Sunday, I decided to find out just how wide this blanket is cast - and ended up watching 15 hours of uninterrupted action. (Who says sports journalists do not earn their money?)

The experiment began with the Club World Cup in Japan, Fifa rather sweetly scheduling the first quarter-final between Monterrey of Mexico and Ulsan Hyundai of South Korea at 11am.

The match, live on Al Jazeera, had the added curiosity factor of being the first to experiment with Fifa-sanctioned goal-line technology. It was not needed as the Mexicans won easily 3-1.

The second quarter-final at 2.30pm saw the Africa Champions Al Ahly of Egypt continuing their odyssey to honour the 74 fans who perished at the Port Said stadium disaster, in February.

When the peerless Mohamed Aboutrika scored to secure a poignant 2-1 win against Sanfrecce Hiroshima of Japan, it seemed nothing to come would compare in significance.

The next hour was spent watching repeats of last week's Pro League highlights on Abu Dhabi Sports before the day's big match, the Manchester derby from the Etihad Stadium. A brilliant match, nonetheless, left me with a sense of footballing deja vu throughout.

Rooney scored twice. Rio Ferdinand was immense. Mario Balotelli sulked. Carlos Tevez inspired a comeback. And United scored a last-minute winner. Turned out I'd been watching another repeat after all.

But even as City fans were sportingly acknowledging United's players by chucking their pocket money at them, Everton against Tottenham Hotspur was under way at Goodison Park. A chance to watch the coolest-looking man in football, the 1970s rock star and marauding left-back Leighton Baines.

A scoreless first half meant a quick change back to Al Jazeera to catch another priceless, 15-minute masterclass by football's very own Chuck Norris, Andrea Pirlo, as he helped Juventus to a 1-0 victory over Palermo.

The last Premier League match of the day, at Upton Park, kicked off at 8pm, Liverpool's Glen Johnson evoking the memory of the Brazilian legend Josimar (look it up on Youtube), before West Ham came back to lead 2-1 at half time.

Meanwhile, back at Goodison, Everton performed a stunning karaoke version of Manchester United's 1999 Champions League triumph; two late, late goals leaving Andre Villas-Boas once again distraught over the performance from a team in blue.

At West Ham, Liverpool pulled off an unlikely win, with Alan Curbishley in the ADTV studios pinpointing Mohamed Diame's injury as a turning point. But how do you explain the miracle of a Suarez-less Reds scoring three?

There was no time to waste on punditry. It was 11pm, and on Al Jazeera the Radamel Falcao Show was about to start. Atletico Madrid's Colombian striker - and the ghost that haunts a certain Chelsea striker in his sleep - took less than half an hour to score two against Deportivo La Coruna.

The second, a sensational volley, beat Johnson's goal as the day's most spectacular.

Falcao ultimately humiliated poor Depo with an astonishing five-goal haul in a 6-0 win.

But even as the man of the moment walked off with the match ball he must have felt, or even known, that his feat was about to be overshadowed.

And there is only one man who could pull off such a trick.

For Lionel Messi, the task of equalling, and then breaking, Gerd Muller's record of 85 goals in a calendar year was as near a formality as one is likely to find in football. The genius from Argentina needed only 25 minutes to score two typically brilliant goals in a match that ended just before 2am yesterday morning.

Fifteen hours of non-stop football (interrupted only by a Nando's delivery). It was not always easy. Inane commentator cliches, seemingly endless diving, abysmal refereeing. Even the unwelcome return of crowd trouble.

And glimpses of women’s handball as I surfed the channels.

It also was the most memorable day of the 2012/13 season so far.

Ahlawy redemption in Japan. Premier League drama. Juve leading Serie A's slow renaissance. And Falcao. Falcao. Falcao. Falcao. Falcao.

Above all, there was the privilege of seeing the world's greatest footballer practically running out of personal milestones to achieve.

Not a bad day to spend in front of the television. No wonder our stadiums are empty.


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