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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Eager fans clamber for glimpse of Real Madrid training session at NYU Abu Dhabi

Fans travel from far and wide, though Spanish side's star players prove illusive

Brothers Ahmed, 11, and Ammar Bedair, 13, trying to get a glimpse of the football players. Victor Besa / The National.
Brothers Ahmed, 11, and Ammar Bedair, 13, trying to get a glimpse of the football players. Victor Besa / The National.

The lush green pitches of New York University Abu Dhabi are typically the scene of collegiate team training sessions and casual interschool games.

But on Tuesday night they played host to the biggest team in the world as Read Madrid prepared to take on the UAE's own Al Jazira in the Fifa Club World Cup on Wednesday.

A few dozen fans gathered outside the stadium hoping to glimpse the team as they entered the stadium.

Many had expected that the first 15 minutes of training would be open to the public, as it had been the day before, though it was not to be.

The first fan to show up was Azzam Al Bayed, a year 11 student from Dubai who had been dropped off by his parents.

Mr Al Bayed was early enough to see the buses arrive at the stadium and disappear behind black barriers.

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Read more:

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Zinedine Zidane expects Real Madrid to be severely tested by Al Jazira

'For fans it was very much Real Madrid In Abu Dhabi, THEIR Abu Dhabi'

John McAuley: How Al Jazira can stop Real Madrid at Club World Cup

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His sweatshirt read 'Hope', a virtue he ran low on as a security guard told him to back away from the gates.

“I came all the way. This is the heartbreaker, when they tell you it’s public, and it’s private...” said the 17-year-old.

Mr Al Bayed, who likes to play street football, had come to fulfil his dream of having a photograph with his hero, Cristiano Ronaldo.

Azzam Albayed, 17, was disappointed to be stuck behind a gate at the VIP entrance area of the players.Victor Besa / The National.
Azzam Albayed, 17, was disappointed to be stuck behind a gate at the VIP entrance area of the players.Victor Besa / The National.

“You know, in Palestine we have football and this stuff but we don’t have players like these. Our Palestinian players are not like these players because they have work to do other than football.”

As players filed off the bus, 11-year-old Ahmed Bedair peaked under the barriers but saw nothing.

Ahmed had come with his 13-year-old brother, Ammar, and father, Yasser.

"We tried to come here to see the training,” said Ahmed, who wore a Real Madrid jersey.

“We didn’t know it was closed.”

Selma Hassan and her family had driven all the way from Sharjah.

Ms Hassan, her husband Hisham and her sons, four-year-old Faris and seven-year-old Ahmed, listened to kick of the ball as they walked the stadium’s perimeter.

“To be honest, I wasn’t this much a fan of football,” said Ms Hassan.

“When I married him, I got it. Now I know every team and every coach because of him.”

Real Madrid players take part in a training session ahead of their FIFA Club World Cup semi-final football match at the New York University Abu Dhabi stadium. Karim Sahib / AFP.
Real Madrid players take part in a training session ahead of their FIFA Club World Cup semi-final football match at the New York University Abu Dhabi stadium. Karim Sahib / AFP.

The Sudanese family planned to make the two-and-a-half hour drive again the next day for the match itself.

It is the first time a UAE team have reached the semi finals of the Club World Cup. Real Madrid are the current champions. They will face off on Wednesday at Zayed Sports City.

While Al Jazira are the local team, Real Madrid are clearly the local favourites.

Even the Abu Dhabians gathered at the NYU campus supported local clubs like Al Wahda and Al Ain but not Al Jazira.

Mona Al Hameli, a Barcelona fan, had come just to support her sister Fatema.

“I’m supporting them since 2002, since I was eight years old,” said Fatema, an aerospace engineer who played football on the Khalifa University team.

“I would wait for two or three hours. You know, these players are the new legends although maybe our grandfathers were not agree with us.”

Throughout the training, fans climbed barriers to peer over the fence at the Spanish team.

For those lucky enough to get a glimpse, there was not much to see.

“We only saw their backs,” said Sandy Ramsis, a 10-year-old from Egypt who had come with her father and 12 year old sister, Moreen. She and her sister are avid fans. “They make amazing goals that are impossible.”

As time passed, Azzam hatched a plan B.

“Someone told me the hotel where they are staying.”