x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Club World Cup earns the fans' praise

Despite transport hiccups and one or two disappointing crowds, the 11-day tournament, which ended last night, was rated a big success.

Fans of Estudiantes cheer their team during last night's match with Barcelona.
Fans of Estudiantes cheer their team during last night's match with Barcelona.

ABU DHABI // After 12 hours of football, which was witnessed by more than 100,000 fans, the Club World Cup came to a close last night. Supporters at the last two matches yesterday were quick to praise the competition, which began on December 9.

"It's wonderful. It's amazing," said Jaber Jharaibeh, 25, a Jordanian who lives in Abu Dhabi and who went to four matches. "The atmosphere, the organisation is good. When you entered the stadium somebody showed you where you were seated and you could get drinks and snacks." At last night's final, 43,050 fans saw the Spanish giants and European champions Barcelona defeat the Argentine Copa Libertadores holders Estudiantes 2-1 after extra time.

Earlier, the Mexican CONCACAF Champions League winners Atlante played the South Korean Asian Football Confederation title holders Pohang Steelers for the third and fourth places. The Steelers won the match 4-1 on penalties after the game had ended 1-1. While there were many UAE nationals and residents at the games, the tournament also attracted thousands of fans from overseas. Mashari Jmal, 22, a Kuwaiti who studies in Egypt, said coming to the UAE for the competition was "very, very worthwhile".

"Every game has been better than the last one. I would come every year to see Barcelona," he said. Similarly, Amar Saadi, 28, a Lebanese worker who lives in Bahrain, said he came to see Barcelona's top players, such as Lionel Messi, Xavi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see these players," Mr Saadi said. The eight-game tournament finished last night at Zayed Sports City. Before the final kicked off, there was a closing ceremony featuring 400 local schoolchildren, professional performers and volunteers.

While supporters praised the competition overall, some fans said they had experienced minor transport problems. Mr Saadi said when he bought his tickets he had not been made aware that he needed a separate parking pass, so he had to leave his car some distance from the stadium and walk to the venue. A fan from Britain, who wished to remain anonymous, said he had trouble getting to the semi-final between Barcelona and Atlante last Wednesday, which was also held at Zayed Sports City.

"There were dozens of people like me walking down the main road in the hope of catching a bus or taxi," he said. However, he added, the game itself had a "very good atmosphere". Shatha al Romaithi, a spokesman for the competition's local organising committee, said the traffic had been "a little congested" outside the stadiums before some of the games. She added, though, that the park-and-ride scheme, which encouraged spectators to leave their cars at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, received "very positive feedback" from fans.

"We believe the country has, once again, demonstrated its ability to organise high-profile sporting events to the highest international standard," she said. Ms al Romaithi said organisers hoped that the tournament would also increase "awareness and interest in competitive sports in the region". The competition, which saw the matches played at Zayed Sports City and Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, will also be held in the capital next year.

Ms al Romaithi said there were lessons to be learnt from this year's event. "Certainly, for the early matches, we would have liked to have seen some higher numbers, and this is something we will focus on for next year. "Al Ahli [the Dubai-based team] going out in the first round and the heavy rains experienced last weekend did not help spectator numbers. "However, the passion and excitement of the fans that have come along to support their teams has been outstanding."

She said several thousand fans of both Barcelona and Estudiantes had travelled to the UAE for the competition. They joined smaller numbers supporting other teams in the competition, including those from the Democratic Republic of Congo and New Zealand. Among the visiting Argentinian fans was Lisandro Chiavaro, 44, a lawyer from La Plata, who took the opportunity to visit Al Ain and Fujairah while he was here.

"It's been nice," he said. "It's a little strange for us to see the local people that support the foreign teams, but they are very friendly." The Buenos Aires resident Alex Gooding, 46, a company manager, had also flown from Argentina. "We have discovered a new culture that we didn't know anything about," he said, adding that he felt "very safe" in the UAE. "Before the semi-final against the Koreans, the atmosphere around the stadium was very entertaining and it pumped up our expectations.

"They were grand premises, there were cars painted in our colours and there were little three-against-three football matches. "I think it's been very well organised." dbardsley@thenational.ae