x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Brazil and Iran to square off on UAE pitch

Brazil's football federation announce it will be sending a team to play against Iran somewhere in Abu Dhabi "in seven days" time.

Robinho, the former Manchester City forward, could be one of Brazil's stars playing in Abu Dhabi next week.
Robinho, the former Manchester City forward, could be one of Brazil's stars playing in Abu Dhabi next week.

ABU DHABI // Robinho, Alves, Pato. They are among the shining stars of world football and household names across the globe - and they could all be showing off their skills in the UAE before next week is out.

The rumours began circulating late last week. Fans got the confirmation they were waiting for yesterday. "We will play in Abu Dhabi," Rodrigo Paiva, the press officer for the Brazilian Football Federation (CBF) confirmed last night, reached by phone in Brazil. 

On Monday, the CBF announced that its national team, five-time winners of the World Cup, would play Iran in Abu Dhabi on October 7. The news came from Iran, too. The Iranian team will definitely play against Brazil in the UAE, Mehdi Taj, deputy chairman of the Iranian Football Federation (IFF) told the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA).

The Iranian team will fly from Jordan, where they are currently playing in the West Asian Football Federation championship, to Abu Dhabi to prepare for the game, he said. Ali Kaffashian, the president of the IFF, promised Brazil would bring "all its stars" to Abu Dhabi. 

Yesterday, the UAE Football Association also confirmed that the match would take place. Mr Taj told the Fars News Agency that there would be no shortage of Iranian fans for the game. The Iranian Embassy estimates that about 400,000 of its citizens live in the UAE.

"It is natural that in a game of such importance the stadium will be filled with Iranian fans," he said. The venue of the match, should it go ahead, is not certain. Some reports say it will be at Zayed Sports City while others say it will be at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium. 

Speaking to Mehr News Agency yesterday, Abbas Torabian, the chairman of the international affairs committee of the IFF, said that the match would be held at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, and said Brazil would bring all their star players with them.

"The game will entail no financial costs, or gain, for Iran," he said. "The Brazilian team's sponsor is paying all the expenses for our team. The game was intended to be held in one of the European countries but those countries refused to cooperate and even created hurdles in our way." 

An Iranian diplomatic source in the UAE said they had found out about the match from media reports, and had still not received official confirmation.

However, he said it underscored the deep relationship between the UAE and Iran, citing Richard Nixon's famed "Ping-Pong diplomacy"in the 1970s. 

The US president's ice-breaking state visit to China was swiftly followed by an invitation to the US team to play ping pong there.

 "Richard Nixon, when he went to China he did table tennis, and we are Muslim neighbours until judgment day," he said. Whatever the diplomatic effect, UAE-based Iranian fans were practically salivating at the prospect.

Sanaz Khatabi, 41, said an opponent of Brazil's calibre would be good practice for Iran before January's Asian Cup in Qatar. 

"Iran have won the Asian Cup four times, and who knows, maybe they will win for the fifth time when they compete in Qatar," she said. Farshad Sohrabi, a 27-year-old computer engineer, said his countrymen referred to their team as "Asia's Brazil". 

"I hope this football match will be a memorable and entertaining one," he said. "I am going to be there watching and cheering no matter what."

For their part, Brazil certainly rate themselves more highly than "South American's Iran". After Abu Dhabi, the Brazilian team will head to the UK to play for the first time against Ukraine. 

But Mano Menezes, Brazil's head coach, let the cat out of the bag about his team's attitude to their rivals. He was quoted as saying that Iran and Ukraine were selected as opponents because they were of medium calibre. That, he said, would help him to watch his team's performance without the stress of a tough opponent.

Kamyar Salami, 23, an Iranian studying business in Dubai, was just one to take umbrage at that. "We will show the Brazilians just how 'medium calibre' we are," he said. "The Iranian team have to make us proud."

 hkhalaf@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Kareem Shaheen