x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Brazil the lure but Iran get the cheers

Although there were plenty of spaces in the stadium what fans lacked in numbers they certainly made up for in enthusiasm for the hastily arranged friendly.

Brazil's Alexandre Pato, centre, scored his team's second goal in their 3-0 win.
Brazil's Alexandre Pato, centre, scored his team's second goal in their 3-0 win.

Judging by the amount of flashbulbs that went off inside the Brazil team bus as it pulled up outside the Zayed Sports City stadium last night, their young players are really entering into the spirit of the "Brazil World Tour". 

And they are unlikely to be too upset if they used up all the space in the memory-stick of their digital cameras: the next stop on Brazil's magical mystery tour is Derby, England, where they will play Ukraine on Monday night at the Pride Park Stadium.

Such is the way of modern international football. It is sweet that the players like to act otherwise, but someone should tell them that they are supposed to be the tour's main attraction. After all, that is the reason the Swiss marketing company who own the rights to a series of prestige friendly matches involving them pay in excess of $3 million (Dh11m) per game to get them to play. Last night's fixture against Iran was arranged in little over a week, at a venue whose chief attraction for the organisers was the fact it was available for use at such short notice.

Perhaps it was a good thing that they did not have enough time to arrange a fireworks show to follow the football this time. The last time Brazil played at this ground, in November 2005, a lavish pyrotechnics performance was set off prematurely. There was still some time to run during the 8-0 rout of the UAE that night, but Ronaldinho, the sport's biggest star at the time, seemed more enthralled by the fireworks than the action on the field.

The coach of the time, Carlos Alberto Parreira, was angered by the poor turnout of spectators back then, suggesting more people attend his side's training sessions back at home then were at the stadium that evening. Last night's crowd was better, and although there were plenty of spaces in the stadium what they lacked in numbers they certainly made up for in enthusiasm. "I was very excited when I heard Iran were playing Brazil in UAE," 

Mohammed Ahmedi, 21, student who has lived in Dubai all his life, said. "I don't know why they chose to play this game here rather than in Tehran, but I am happy that they did."

Unsurprisingly, given the large Iranian expatriate population in the UAE, the nominal home team had the larger share of seats in the ground, which they decorated with an array of flags to add some colour to the proceedings. A substantial banner was also unfurled in the second-half, bearing the image of Karim Bagheri, the 37-year-old midfielder who was playing his last match for the national team before he retires.

Much to their delight, Bagheri was paraded in front of the Iranian fans on the shoulders of his colleagues at the conclusion of the 3-0 defeat. Despite giving away a numerical advantage, Brazil's supporters were in typically good voice, boosted no doubt by the backing of the majority of neutrals in the audience. The curious background to the fixture mattered little to the majority, who were just pleased to have the chance to see some of the games biggest stars up close and in person.

"I never imagined they would come back here to play," Victor Gomes, a 14-year-old pupil at the American Community School in Abu Dhabi, said at last night's game. "I came to watch when they played the UAE here and that was not such a good game." Brazil will play their local rivals Argentina in Doha next month, and one supporter was so excited by the prospect he wore his Argentina shirt to the game.

"I am here wearing this shirt because I am against Brazil," said Farid Ali, 31, a Dubai-based Emirati who plans to travel to Qatar for the next stage of Brazil's globetrotting series. "It is surprising they have come here to play this game, but this game was bound to be closer than when they played the UAE."