x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Kalba and Al Dhafra just a pair of tourists in President's Cup

Kalba and Al Dhafra did not pack the stands on Saturday night, but it did not seem to bother them as the President's Cup affords the two a chance to shed the anonymity of Division One and get some TV time.

The Kalba team, in the yellow kit, managed to keep the Al Dhafra side behind them at the end with a 3-2 win in the President's Cup.
The Kalba team, in the yellow kit, managed to keep the Al Dhafra side behind them at the end with a 3-2 win in the President's Cup.

A Diego Maradona training session would have drawn a few more people to the stands, but the Argentine legend's home ground wore a desolate look last night despite being the venue of a President's Cup match.

Not more than a few dozen people watched as Kalba and Al Dhafra, two Pro League teams of the last season, met in the opening round of the second-most important competition in UAE football.

Maradona himself made a brief appearance in the VIP box but left long before Kalba overturned a two-goal deficit to win 3-2 and book their spot in the quarter-finals.

Dhafra played the final 18 minutes with 10 men after Ahmed Abdullah Nasir picked up his second booking of the night.

The two teams, one with a base in the Western Region and the other from a Sharjah enclave to the south of Fujairah, are certainly not a headline act in UAE football, but the lack of attendance was still a sore.

Distance surely was the biggest reason for those deserted stands.

Fans from Kalba or Madinat Zayed would have to drive a couple of hours to reach the venue and then drive back in the night.

Watching the live telecast at home or at a cafe would seem like the more practical option.

Given the reluctance of fans to travel for even the Pro League games, why were two teams from such distant regions playing in Dubai?

With the knockout format of the tournament, the decision to play at neutral venues is understandable.

But playing in front of empty stands sullies the image of a prestigious tournament.

Following the format of England's FA Cup could be a better option. Let the luck of the draw decide the home team.

Hopefully, there would be a few more fans cheering on their players then.

The lack of support, however, did not seem to affect the players much.

The President's Cup affords them a chance to shed the anonymity of Division One and get some TV time. That must have been their incentive last night an the two teams brought their best game to the park.

Kalba, with the former French Under-19 Gregory Dufrennes leading their attack, must have fancied their chances of going through from the game to the last eight. Earlier this month they drubbed Dhafra 7-1 in a Division One match; they had won their last Pro League duel as well.

The Abu Dhabi team, however, seemed a different side. They had come to Dubai with a point to prove and did just that. By the 16th minute, Dhafra had taken the lead through Oumar Kalabane; the Guinean rose over the Kalba defence to head home.

In the 36th minute, Abdullah Abdul Hadi made it 2-0, flicking the ball past a sliding Kalba goalkeeper Mohammed Othman after being set up by a defence-splitting pass from Kalabane.

Subdued going into the break, Kalba came out forcefully in the second session and their relentless pressure paid off in the 62nd minute when Abdulmalik Miqdad nodded in a Dufrennes free kick.

With only a minute left on the clock, Khalid Ali Khamis booted in the equaliser and the Brazilian Elias de Oliveira struck the winner for Kalba in added time.

 

arizvi@thenational.ae