x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Social media abuzz over video of UAE footballer's strange penalty

The cheeky back-heeled penalty by a young UAE footballer in an international friendly has proved to be highly popular on YouTube.

The controversial shot was struck during the UAE's friendly at home to Lebanon in Al Ain on Sunday night.
The controversial shot was struck during the UAE's friendly at home to Lebanon in Al Ain on Sunday night.

DUBAI // An audacious back-heeled penalty by a UAE footballer is quickly becoming an online sensation with thousands of views on YouTube just hours after the final whistle was blown.

The controversial shot was struck during the UAE's friendly at home to Lebanon in Al Ain on Sunday night. The hosts were already 6-2 up when the UAE were awarded a 78th-minute penalty .

Midfielder Theyab Awana placed the ball on the penalty spot before running up as normal. He then turned his back to the goal and fired a low back-heeled shot with his right foot to the bemused goalkeeper's bottom left corner.

There were already 11 different feeds of the video on YouTube yesterday afternoon, less than 24-hours after the game, with more than 6,000 views - and rising rapidly.

The speed at which the footage is going viral - the term for a very popular video - does not surprise Alexander McNabb, a director at the Dubai-based Spot On PR, which specialises in online media.

"I would say 50,000 views are impressive, 100,000 is very impressive and when something gets one million views that is definitely viral," he said. "It's difficult to say what makes something go viral but they tend to be things that are quirky and out of the ordinary - and a back-heeled penalty certainly falls into the category."

Although online social media platforms like Twitter and Digg are still relatively in their infancy, they are becoming more widely used, especially among Emiratis. "There is more integration online now so it's more likely that things can go viral quicker," Mr McNabb said.

Mr McNabb listed videos of the Dubai Mall fountain show, which has dozens of YouTube clips totalling more than two million views, and footage of drivers doing dangerous stunts on Sheikh Zayed Road, with more than 100,000 views, as examples of popular YouTube videos generated in the UAE. A video featuring a view from the top of the Burj Khalifa has been seen by more than 3.5 million people.

The popularity of the videos usually spreads through online word of mouth or with links being circulated through e-mails or on Facebook or Twitter posts, he said.

Opinion of Awana's goal has been divided, with a range of views being expressed in the comments section under the videos.

"It's like when u are dreaming as a kid, and playing the World Cup final, and making this goal," read one comment.

If you cannot view the video here please click here for the video on YouTube

Another positive comment read: "Brazil national team should learn taking penalty kicks from this guy ;)"

But one critic said: "Could the ball go any slower? Even my mom would defend that."

The penalty taker, Awana, 21, who is just breaking into the national first team, had been on the pitch for just eight minutes as a substitute before he took the penalty. The team's Slovenian head coach Srecko Katanec was not amused by his antics and substituted him two minutes later. Neither was the FA amused and the player could be suspended or fined for his "disrespectful" penalty.

Esmaeel Rashed, the UAE manager, said the penalty could make Awana the most well known UAE player around the world.

Rashed said: "He said afterwards, 'I did wrong. I made a mistake. Tell the team I'm sorry. I'm really, really sorry I did this thing'. He is a young man and I think he will learn from this moment. He is very upset and very worried."

Opinion among Emirati fans was divided. "People argue that what he did was wrong, including the coach, but it was entertaining from a viewer's perspective," said Nashwa Hamad, a 26-year-old Emirati TV director, who supports Al Ain Club and saw the penalty after being sent clips by friends."In terms of sportsmanship, the game was a friendly," she added. "It's about experimenting. They were winning anyway. If it was an official game, I might have a different opinion. Theyab Awana is a kid and breaking him down by blaming him is a bit harsh."

For fellow Emirati Mohammed Ahmed, 21, the penalty was "childish", but fair. "The goal counted. Was it professional? No. It was childish, and was an intent to mock the other team, but it did grab attention," he said.

"It's the first of its kind, but nothing that has not happened before that is silly or disrespectful. But in this region, it's definitely something new."

nhanif@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Amna Al Haddad

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