Barcelona's victory in the Champions League final secures their place in the Fifa Club World Cup here in the capital.
A win for Barca and Abu Dhabi
ABU DHABI // Barcelona's victory over Manchester United in the Uefa Champions League final in Rome has secured the club's place in the Fifa Club World Cup UAE 2009 in Abu Dhabi in December. And Ali Bujsaim, who has travelled the world as a Fifa referee, said the result was ideal for the capital.
"I think Barcelona have more star players than Manchester United," said Bujsaim, who officiated in three World Cups and at one time was ranked by Fifa as the world's leading referee. "Barcelona have fans everywhere you go and there will be a lot of their supporters excited by the prospect of watching them play in Abu Dhabi," he added. The Catalan side beat Manchester United 2-0 in front of 67,000 fans at the Stadio Olimpico on Wednesday night.
The result means that Abu Dhabi will play host to some of the biggest names in world football, such as Lionel Messi, Andrés Iniesta and Thierry Henry when the team arrives in early December. It also sets up the prospect of a game between the UFL champions, Al Ahli, and the UEFA champions on Dec 16 if Al Ahli win their earlier matches. Local Barcelona fans already have started contacting supporters in Spain to help them when they arrive.
Josep Gombao, the head coach at the FC Barcelona School of Football in Jumeirah, Dubai, said: "Naturally I am very happy with the win. Having the team come to Abu Dhabi will be an event for the students of the soccer school. "As the direct representatives of the club in the UAE, we are looking forward to it and will be assisting them in preparing for the matches in the Club World Cup." Fans were excited, too. Elisa Labori, the president of the FC Barcelona Fan Club of the UAE, predicted a wave of support.
"Having FC Barcelona coming to the UAE is a dream come true for UAE fans," she said. "Mark my words, for every game they play at the Fifa Club World Cup there will be a mass of Barcelona fans cheering on their heroes." One obstacle for Spanish fans is the lack of direct flights from their home country to the UAE. Organisers are looking at chartering flights, and the numbers will be swollen by supporters from Saudi Arabia, where European teams are very popular - especially Barcelona.
"The streets of Jeddah were like a ghost town, with not a soul in sight when the game was on," said Ali al Sayed, 23, a graphic designer based in the Saudi Arabian city. "It was freaky. I will definitely be there." Locally, the club sells more shirts in the UAE than any other international club and will enjoy the support of many of the 2,000 Spanish nationals living and working in the Emirates. Mohammed Khalfan al Rumaithi, the UAE FA president, welcomed the arrival of the Spanish team.
"FC Barcelona is one of the greatest teams in the world and this will be the first time that the club has played a competitive match in our region," Mr al Rumaithi said. "This is a rare opportunity for all sports fans in the United Arab Emirates and GCC region to see European football at its best." The Fifa Club World Cup UAE 2009 will see seven teams compete in eight matches from Dec 9-19 for a prize fund of Dh60.6 million (US$17 million), with the champion winning Dh18.3m ($5m).
Barcelona are the fourth team to qualify for the event. They join Al Ahli, who won the UFL on Sunday, along with Auckland City (New Zealand) of the Oceania Football Confederation and Atlante FC (Mexico) representing the Confederation of North, Central America, and Caribbean Association Football, both of which qualified this month. In the UAE, bars were brimming last night as football fans turned out in force to catch the action. Some had made reservations days in advance to secure a place.
Oliver Steding, the director of food and beverages at the Hilton Dubai Jumeirah, said the hotel restaurant, Wavebreaker, and its sport bar, Studio One, had to turn away some fans because they had reached capacity. The restaurant had doubled the size of its garden area in anticipation of big crowds. "It was a fantastic night," Mr Steding said, adding that most of the 450 fans gathered at the restaurant had made reservations.
"Even though it was a big football game, it was all very peaceful and harmonious," he added. "It was a mix of fans, but the largest number of tourists at the hotel are British, so there was a very strong Manchester United support." Not everyone went home happy at the final whistle. "There were a lot of miserable faces leaving at the end of the night, but even the Man United supporters were all very positive in defeat," Mr Steding said.
"It was a very good and satisfying night which exceeded our expectations." Leonard Daniels, the banqueting and events manager at the Irish Village in Dubai, said his telephones were ringing constantly beginning early in the morning as anxious fans checked to see whether the match would be shown there. "Normally for all matches we are busy, but last night we were totally packed," he said, adding that people began to arrive more than three hours before kick-off to secure a place.
There were similar scenes in Abu Dhabi. Almost 1,000 people watched the match at The Village at the One to One hotel. Mikel Iturri, the food and beverage manager and a Barcelona supporter, said: "The atmosphere was great. It was our first time showing sport. "There are a few things to touch up, but more or less it was a great atmosphere." At the Sheraton Khalidiya Hotel's 3rd Avenue restaurant and lounge, more than 500 people watched the game.
"It was packed - no place to breathe," said Abi Mathew, the food and beverage manager. "It was like a football stadium. There was a lot of screaming and shouting, a little bit of chanting, but towards the end the chanting died out. "There were a lot of unhappy faces at the end." * The National * With additional reporting by William Johnson