x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Football fans keep cool as Al Jazira sizzle

Large police presence ensures the packed arena of 37,000 rival club supporters enjoy the President's Cup final without incident

Football fans celebrate at the intersection of Khaleej al Arabi Street and the Corniche after the UAE President's Cup, Monday, April 11, 2011 in Abu Dhabi.
Football fans celebrate at the intersection of Khaleej al Arabi Street and the Corniche after the UAE President's Cup, Monday, April 11, 2011 in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // More than 35,000 football fans packed into Zayed Sports City Stadium last night to watch as Al Jazira trounced rivals Al Wahda in a thrilling and trouble-free end to the President's Cup football tournament.

Concerns that fans' enthusiasm might spill into trouble proved unwarranted and the event passed without a hitch.

The attendance was believed to be the biggest for any President's Cup final, with 37,408 supporters flocking to the stadium. Last year, when Emirates Club beat Al Shabab, 33,000 fans attended.

Police introduced a series of measures to keep supporters apart and to ease the inevitable traffic gridlock around the stadium.

Overhead, a police helicopter circled the site, monitoring the crowd and keeping an eye out for trouble, but ultimately fans were well behaved and Al Wahda took their 4-0 defeat with good grace.

Fans from across the emirate and beyond swamped the area around the stadium ahead of the 6pm kick-off, bringing traffic to a standstill.

Police officers marshalled arriving fans into separate gates according to which team they were supporting, while inside the stadium mounted units took up positions around the 49,500-seat ground. Private security firms assisted police around the stadium.

Police assigned separate routes, parking areas and gates to each team's supporters in order to reduce the chance of tension.

Throughout the match, supporters cheered and whooped for their team, but despite fears of violence the banter between fans remained good-natured.

Red-and-white flags emblazoned with the Al Jazira crest billowed around their supporters' areas, while in the Al Wahda section of the ground fans chanted and waved their maroon scarves.

Arabic music played on the ground's public address system throughout the match, while some fans sporadically played drums they had brought to cheer on their team.

"We came from Al Ain," said Khalid Mohammad, adding he wanted to see the final because the believed, wrongly as it turned out, it would be a close match.

"This is a big game," said the 21-year-old engineering student. "There is always a lot of tension between these two teams when they play. We are all friends before and after the game, but during it we want to win.

"We were the better team. We have not lost any games yet and we can only get stronger."

Diehard Al Jazira fan Hassan Ali Aloos said he struggled to believe his eyes when he watched his team captain, Ibrahim Diaky, lift the President's Cup for the first time last night.

"I was really worried in the first half. It was very tight and there were some near misses on both sides," said the 22-year-old student.

He was sat in the corner of the stadium and was in a perfect position to watch his team score three goals in the second half. "It was boom, boom, boom. They made it look very easy, which it was in the second half. If you give us space as they did, we will win," he said.

Equally as pleased with their team's performance were two policemen from Sharjah. "We drive up every time Al Jazira play in Abu Dhabi. We have to get through all the traffic but its always worth it," said Abdul Rahman Shamsi.

His colleague, 21-year-old Haitham Hamadai, said he always followed Al Jazira despite living in another emirate. "I have been a fan since I was a little boy and this has been a good year for us," he said.

The two rival clubs have never previously met in the President's Cup, and neither have ever lifted it. Their two encounters in this year's league both ended in draws.

Al Wahda came close twice in three appearances in the President's Cup, which is the UAE's version of the English FA Cup final.

In 2003, Al Wahda lost 6-5 in a penalty shoot-out to Al Sharjah. In 2000, the club lost 8-7 on penalties to Al Wasl. There was no need or a penalty shoot-out last night as Al Jazira dominated the second half with three goals. Bare opened the score sheet in the 11th minute of the match - his first of two goals.

"This is it for us," said Ahmed Jassim. He said he was born in Al Wahda and attended every home game across from his house. "We needed a win. We are not going to win the league and this was our only shot at some silverware this year," he added.

"The referee was not making the best decisions," The 17-year-old student said at half-time. "He has made some big mistakes and the game was not going our way." Al Wahda had numerous chances in the first half, including a disallowed goal because of a controversial offside.

An hour before kick-off, fans emptied out of buses and cars next to the stadium.

The celebrations were expected to last long into the night.

"We are going to make a big festival on the way back to the club. We will all go in convoy beeping our horns and then meet up at our stadium," said Hassan Ali Aloos.

eharnan@thenational.ae