x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Gulf Cup semi-final victory cheers football fans all over the UAE

The joy was felt all over the UAE with people gathering around TV screens wherever they may be.

Fans rejoice after the UAE team scores in the dying minutes of the match. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Fans rejoice after the UAE team scores in the dying minutes of the match. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

ABU DHABI //  The clock was showing 89 minutes and the scoreline in the top left-hand corner of the 55-inch television screen was still reading 0-0.

Then Abdulaziz Haikal crossed from the left and the UAE's new young hero, Ahmed Khalil, nipped in to score the most important goal of his fledgling career.

Cue screams and cheers across the country as the UAE beat Kuwait 1-0 to take their place in the final of  the Gulf Cup.

In Abu Dhabi's Cafe di Roma, fans had arrived as early as 45 minutes before the game kicked off.

"You saw how everyone of us screamed and shouted," Sultan Al Suwaidi said. "It's a proud moment for us."

The 30-year-old firefighter with Abu Dhabi Civil Defence, had complete faith in the team.

"Most of the players are young and very skilled. They are all hungry to win."

Mr Al Suwaidi  had wanted to fly to Bahrain to support the national team last night. "Now I'm flying to Bahrain to watch the final on Friday," he said.

He was with his two colleagues, Mahmoud Ali, 28, and Ibrahim Khamis, 38, and a friend, Ahmed Subaa, 33, who works in the military. "The UAE is my country and we are here to support the team," said Mr Ali.

The predominantly Emirati fans in the cafe were all proud and expectant as the UAE had won all three of their previous Gulf Cup matches to finish top of their group in Bahrain.

They all stood, clapped, raised their hands, reacted to every pass and move. When the final whistle sounded, players hugged on the field, sending everyone in the cafe into a frenzy.

Khalil, 21, who scored two goals against Oman on Friday night, had taken the Whites into the final of the Gulf Cup and had united a whole nation.

Ahmed Shehhi, 32, a customs officer, hugged his friends. "I'm so tired," he said. "I don't have any voice now. I was afraid of Kuwait. Alhamdulillah, we won."

His friend, Mohammed Al Hosani, 21, a Zayed University student, said they were all buying air tickets to Bahrain to support their national heroes at the Bahrain National Stadium. "I feel so happy," he said. "The UAE are the best team in the Gulf."

Some stayed behind to watch the second semi-final between hosts Bahrain and Iraq to discover who the UAE's final opponents will be.

The joy was felt all over the UAE with people gathering around TV screens wherever they may be. Hundreds of fans arrived early in a Mirdif coffee shop. One of those eager fans was Adel Youssef, a 21-year-old government employee and law student. He said the success of the national team made him "feel happiness and joy".

Mr Youssef said he had been following the matches even though he was not a football fan. "I usually do not watch football, but when it is the national team playing in a cup, it is a must to support them," he said.

The crowd jumped to their feet in anticipation when the national team had a chance to score in the last few minutes of the first half, but fell back in despair when the chance went begging.

Screams of despair and disappointment grew higher when the UAE missed another chance to score.

Alia Mohammed, a 32-year-old Emirati HR-manager, who does not have any interest in football, said she was following the match because of her loyalty to the UAE.

"I do not understand anything about football and hardly watch it. But because it is the UAE, I am watching," she said.

"Emirati women nowadays are more developed and we are increasingly active in the public domain, so we must come out and support our men and we no longer have to do that from home. We can go out anywhere to do that," she said.

Her views where echoed by Buthaina Al Suwaidi, 23, a banker. "Equality should be in everything including sports. We have women sports team so why should we not support our team," she said.

For every minute that passed the tension rose higher among the supporters. And when, in that magical 89th minute the all-deciding goal arrived the whole nation jumped for joy together

rruiz@thenational.ae

wissa@thenational.ae