x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Al Ain defend their fans' behaviour

Al Ain's chairman respond to charges by Al Wasl officials who branded their fans and coach "unacceptable"

Al Ain fans have come under criticism from Al Wasl
Al Ain fans have come under criticism from Al Wasl

Al Ain's chairman dismissed as "a storm in a tea cup" charges by Al Wasl officials who said that their fans came under attack and their coach, Diego Maradona, was mocked in a match on Saturday at the Tahnoon bin Mohammed Stadium.

"There are really no issues, as far as I am concerned, and certainly not with our spectators," Carlo Nohra, Al Ain's top official, said Tuesday. "They did not disrespect anyone or say anything out of turn.

"After our goal, they chanted, 'Hey, Diego, listen' and broke into the usual club song to see if he would pay attention. I don't think that is unusual. That it was done through a loud hailer might have attracted more attention."

Ahmed Khalifa, the Wasl media officer, had said that Al Ain fans "surprisingly attacked" Wasl fans "by throwing stones at them and their cars, and even attacking a few".

Nohra described the charges as "completely untrue", adding that he was in the car park after the match and saw Al Ain supporters celebrating their 1-0 victory - but no aggressive behaviour.

He said: "When our crowd were being verbally attacked at the Wasl match the previous week, we didn't raise a stink."

Wasl had called for Al Ain to be sanctioned by the loss of home matches, as they were last season after a match at Wasl, but Nohra said he would be "surprised and disappointed" if the FA penalised the club.

Nohra described the tart give-and-take between Maradona and Cosmin Olaroiu, the Al Ain coach, as "tit for tat", adding that Maradona was "way out of line" in his remarks about Olaroiu, whom he described as "quite rude".

"At the end of the day, this was all done under match conditions, as far as we are concerned," Nohra said. "We have some very passionate fans, and so do Wasl, and that's good for football."

In a statement released by Al Ain on Tuesday, Olaroiu expressed sympathy for Maradona after the death of his mother, and said that the Wasl coach's assistants, not the Argentine, had provoked him on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Wasl officials still did not know last night whether Maradona will take charge of the team for Friday's Pro League match at Emirates.

The head coach attended the funeral of his mother, Dalma Franco de Maradona, also known as Dona Tota, at a private ceremony in Bella Vista, north-west of the capital Buenos Aires on Monday and has yet to confirm when he will return to Dubai.

"As we said on Sunday, coach Maradona will decide himself when he is ready to return and, as for now, we do not know whether it will be within the next 48 hours or not," said a Wasl spokesman.

"The hope is that he will be at the club for Friday's game but we do not want to put a definite date on when he will be back."

Wasl had hoped to send a delegation to the funeral of Maradona's mother, who was 81 and died of heart failure on Saturday night (Sunday morning UAE time), but it proved impossible because of the travel time involved.

Maradona's daughter, Dalma, asked on her Twitter account that the media show "respect for my dad at such an emotional moment".

However, Maradona, 51, is so popular in his homeland that the death of a family relative has been almost turned into a national tragedy.

While around only 20 people attended the burial at a private cemetery 30 kilometres from Buenos Aires, the family were greeted by dozens of well-wishers as they made their way into the cemetery, while one man displayed a banner which read, "We are with you and share your pain."

The former World Player of the Year even received a phone call from Cristina Kirchner, the Argentine president, and was visited by Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 US Open tennis champion Juan, and Martin Palermo, the former Argentine international striker.

All Argentine league matches had been preceded by a minute's silence at the weekend out of respect for the Maradona family.

poberjuerge@thenational.ae