x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Empty seats frustrate the FA

The president of the FA Mohammed Khalfan al Rumaithi has spoken of his disappointment at the paltry crowds watching the UAE national team after around only 30 supporters attended the 3-1 win over Jordan.

DUBAI // The president of the Football Association (FA) Mohammed Khalfan al Rumaithi has spoken of his disappointment at the paltry crowds watching the UAE national team after around only 30 supporters attended the 3-1 win over Jordan. He has watched attendances deteriorate for several years and admitted there was very little that could be done to buck the trend.

He said he could only hope that one day soon supporters would return to watch their national team.The friendly on Wednesday night marked Srecko Katanec's first victory as coach, but the home support were outnumbered by around 200 Jordan fans. It followed on from Saturday's 1-1 draw with Palestine, when the UAE fans were outnumbered by just a few hundred Palestinian supporters. Entry to the Rashid bin Maktoum Stadium in Dubai was free, with the FA absorbing all costs, but the masses of empty seats frustrated al Rumaithi. "I feel so disappointed to see the national team playing in empty stadiums," he said. "We have made pleas through the media that the national team need their support, but if they don't pay attention then we can't forcibly bring them to the stadiums.

"It was not like this before and now it's getting worse. But I'm still hopeful they will return when we play again next month." Katanec, who replaced Dominique Bathenay after the French coach failed to secure qualification for next year's World Cup, said larger crowds are needed to encourage the players. "The national team need to be supported when they play at home and I hope the crowds will fill the stadiums come when we play Manchester City [on November 12] and in a friendly competition a few days later," he said. "The players need motivation and there is no better way to do that than filling the stadiums. I think it should come from their hearts. If they love the national team, they should be coming down to cheer them. It certainly can help and inspire the players to raise their level of play."

The game against Jordan was a friendly, and an Al Shabab fan who identified himself only as Ahmed, 26, said the fact these matches were not part of a tournament contributed to the lack of interest. "Nobody wants to come and watch games where the coach is trying to try out players," he said. "I came here because I happened to be around for work. People don't want to come and watch such games because nowadays time has become very precious. If the FA want to bring in the crowds, they should arrange matches with stronger teams and field their best players.

"All the Emiratis are loyal to their country but that doesn't mean they have to watch such games. Yes, if they are playing to qualify for the Asian Cup or the next World Cup, we will be there to back them to the hilt. That is for sure." @Email:apassela@thenational.ae