x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Games glory is up for grabs

… but man-of-the-match honours are already won. An Emirati lawyer has paid for a plane to fly 138 of the nation's supporters to join him in Uzbekistan and watch a game that decides which of the two national teams travel to London for the Olympics.

"We will win, 2-1, Inshallah", says Ibrahim Ali Mohammed Karamsha, seen here with his son Abdel at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club. The pair will travel to Tashkent, Uzbekistan to watch the UAE team play.

A small army of Emirati fans is converging on Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, to cheer on the national football team in their bid to reach their first Olympic Games.

And thanks to one Emirati's generosity, 138 of them will be travelling for free.

The crucial match kicks off at 5pm (UAE time) today at the 10,000-capacity JAR Stadium.

Neither team have ever reached the Olympics. Both can guarantee their place with a win, but the UAE can go through with a draw.

Uzbekistan authorities say UAE fans have been allotted 333 tickets, but Emiratis already in Tashkent say they are expecting double that number, reports The National's Paul Oberjuerge who is in the city.

With temperatures of 10°C forecast and a 90 per cent chance of rain or snow, a chilly reception awaits the visiting players.

But the generosity of Issa bin Haider could do something to warm the Uzbekistan night.

Mr bin Haider, Emirati lawyer, has teamed up with the UAE Football Association (FA) to pay for the 138 fans' travel.

He is chartering a plane for them, while the FA has agreed to pay for three buses to shuttle them to and from the stadium, and provide them with a boxed lunch. The lucky supporters were chosen by the heads of Pro League fan associations.

"Mr Issa has done this for the UAE fans many times before and for this reason has been awarded a trophy and certificate of appreciation by the FA president," said Samia Boumenikra of the FA.

The fans are due to leave Dubai International Airport at 9am today and arrive at 1.30pm Uzbekistan time, before being taken by bus straight to the stadium.

Ibrahim Karmasha, an avid Al Ahli and UAE fan, says it will be his first visit to the country.

"I have to thank the FA for making this trip possible," said Mr Karmasha, 34.

The well-travelled fan who has seen his country play in Syria, Qatar, Lebanon and Jordan added: "It will be a difficult game for the UAE but I predict the Emirates to take it 1-0."

Another Al Ahli fan, Mohammed Al Belooshi, 18, will be watching from the UAE. "I will try to make it to a coffee shop to watch it in 3D and join the crowds who will be watching," Mr Al Belooshi said, adding a bold prediction of 3-0.

If that happens, he said, "I will go and celebrate with my friends at Al Ahli club for a long time".

After the game, the travelling fans will board the same buses back to the airport for a 1.30am flight (Uzbek time) that will land them in Dubai at 4.30am.

"It's a tiring journey to be sure," said Mohamed Rashid, the president of the Al Ain FC fan association and a lifelong fan of the UAE team.

Mr Rashid picked 15 of his "true" fellow Al Ain fans to join him on the journey. He said he had supported the team in countries all over the world. "I've followed the Emirati team to Syria, Iran, Vietnam, Korea, China and all the Arabian Gulf countries," he said. "I've even been to Uzbekistan twice."

Mr Rashid, also known as Al Umdda (The Boss) in football circles, said despite the long journey and cold weather the "UAE qualifying for the Olympics for the first time will give us plenty of energy and warmth".