x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

UAE bank on home crowds in World Cup qualifying against Kuwait

The FA are making arrangements and hoping for better attendances for the national team in the next stage of Asian qualifiers, beginning on Friday at Al Ain.

There is criticism that Al Ain, where UAE played Qatar recently in a friendly in front of empty stands, is not a venue central to all fans.
There is criticism that Al Ain, where UAE played Qatar recently in a friendly in front of empty stands, is not a venue central to all fans.

Special measures are being taken by the Football Association to lure a large crowd to the crucial UAE-Kuwait 2014 World Cup qualifying match at Al Ain tomorrow night.

Hoping to arrest a slide in attendances for home qualifiers that goes back to 2004 - and includes a disappointing turnout of 3,179 for a match versus India in July - the FA is laying on buses, promising giveaways at the game and text-messaging fans, asking them to attend the 7.30pm match at Tahnoun bin Mohammed Stadium.

"We are working hard to attract the fans," said Obaid Al Dhaheri, the head of the Al Ain Fans League, who added: "We are confident that all fans will respond to our call."

Attendances have been sparse, and the players have noticed.

"The players don't want to feel that they are strangers at home just like what has happened in the past," the midfielder, Amer Mubarak, told the FA website.

"Football is nothing without spectators and we would like to see them packing the venue. The match is very crucial for our campaign, and with the strong support of the faithful fans we can have a strong start in the qualifiers."

The Kuwait match represents the first game of the six-match pool play in Asia's Group B. Only two teams out of four advance to the next round.

When the serious business of qualifying for the World Cup is at hand, full stadiums greet the home team in many countries. However, in eight qualifiers played in the UAE since 2004, four attracted crowds of 5,000 or less.

Fahad Ali, the national team administrator, was in the UAE team in 2001, when 40,000 fans turned out at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi to watch the home side advance to the second-last stage of qualifying for the 2002 World Cup.

"The people want good results, and we have not always provided that in recent years," Ali said. "Sometimes there is not that star in the team, and the people are afraid of bad results."

Kefah Al Kaabi, a football commentator for the MBC network and a former top-flight player, suggested that competition for the attention of UAE spectators has exploded in the past 10 years.

"Twenty years ago, everyone went to see the national team play because there were only one or two TV stations, and going to the game was the greatest entertainment possible," Al Kaabi said.

Khaled Awadh, the team manager in 2001 and now assistant chief executive at the Al Wahda club, said the modern UAE football fan expects comforts that cannot be delivered at the venue.

"I think everyone wants to be in a cool room and drink tea or coffee, and watch the match," he said. "At the stadium, you cannot get tea or coffee, and not everyone can sit in an air-conditioned cabin."

Al Kaabi questioned the wisdom of playing in Al Ain, if the FA wants a big crowd. "They never play in the middle of the country, where it is easy for fans from Dubai and Sharjah and Abu Dhabi to come to the match. Not everyone has the time to drive to Al Ain."

Al Kaabi and Ali suggested that a perception of momentum behind the national team will lure more fans. But the players seem to be suggesting they need fans to make a major push for the UAE's first World Cup berth since 1990.

"Our people, they always follow you when you are winning, and they don't when you are losing," Al Kaabi said.

Ali was optimistic of seeing a big crowd in the 15,000-capacity venue tomorrow. "I'm sure the stadium will be full," he said.

"That's 100 per cent. We can tell that from the streets, from the supporters at the training this week. People will come."



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