x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Adding influenza to injury, six-a-siders fall sick as parrots ...

... but they get to take in highs and lows of the World Cup instead.

The Spartans captain Sherif Nagy's footballing dreams were dashed by a torn calf muscle on the eve of the tournament.
The Spartans captain Sherif Nagy's footballing dreams were dashed by a torn calf muscle on the eve of the tournament.

ABU DHABI // Like his sporting heroes David Beckham, Michael Ballack and Michael Essien, Sherif Nagy's dreams of playing football in South Africa ended before they had even kicked off. For the captain of The Spartans, an amateur football team who earned a trip to the World Cup after winning a six-a-side tournament in Abu Dhabi, a torn calf muscle on the eve of his departure for Johannesburg put paid to his hopes.

Mr Nagy, 31, an Egyptian furniture trader, who has lived in the capital for six years, was forced to watch from the sidelines while his teammates - English and Arab expatriates, as well as an Emirati - played their hearts out in the one-day, six-a-side tournament against 10 sides from nations including Brazil, Argentina and Germany. "I was able to walk with a little help from the lads, but I actually didn't play," said Mr Nagy, the general manager of Nasco furniture traders in Abu Dhabi.

"I practised a little bit, but could only play for two minutes - just for fun. And the team picked up another injury along the way. We were cursed - we were literally cursed that trip." As if that was not bad enough, many of his teammates also came down with the flu. As a result, The Spartans failed to advance beyond the group stages of the tournament, which was held on July 1 at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria.

But dogged by misfortune as they were, Mr Nagy and his friends were hardly going to let the greatest show on earth pass them by. Before their own fixtures, the team gathered on the terraces at the Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg to take in Brazil's 3-0 hammering of Chile, where they were joined by Marcos Evangelista de Moraes, the former Brazilian captain better known as Cafu. That was followed by Paraguay's defeat of the Japanese in a penalty shoot-out on June 29.

But the finale of their trip came seconds from the end of Ghana's fateful meeting with Uruguay, when the Uruguayan Luis Suarez's handball stopped a certain goal, denying Ghana a place in the semifinals. Ghana's cruel defeat on penalties was one of the tournament's defining moments. "People were crying over there," said Mr Nagy. The hospitality shown to the team as part of the six-a-side tournament also included a safari at the Pilansberg National Park game reserve.

Mr Nagy added that he and his teammates were able to spread awareness among their competitors about Abu Dhabi and the UAE. "A lot of people didn't know Abu Dhabi, so it was great just to increase their awareness," he said. "When you live in a city and nobody knows about it, you feel so left out. But by the end of trip, everybody knew about Abu Dhabi." mchung@thenational.ae