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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 February 2019

Star Emirati player thanks queuing fans after UAE-Qatar ticket giveaway

Players 'ignore' social media as supporters circulate messages of tolerance ahead of crucial tie

The UAE team will find themselves in the Asian Cup finals if they can defeat Qatar on Tuesday. AFP 
The UAE team will find themselves in the Asian Cup finals if they can defeat Qatar on Tuesday. AFP 

An Emirati star player thanked fans who queued for hours to secure free tickets for the Asian Cup semi-final against Qatar.

Ali Salmeen, the Al Wasl midfielder, said the initiative, in which the authorities bought all the remaining tickets and handed them out free, was “very good”.

“We thank the fans who made sure to get tickets,” he said, a reference to images on Sunday of long queues of supporters who turned out to distribution points across the country. About 18,000 tickets bought by Abu Dhabi Sports Council were handed out within hours of becoming available.

On Monday, some tickets for the clash in Abu Dhabi were exchanging hands on ticket resale websites for vastly inflated prices.

Our focus is on the pitch, we don’t pay attention to social media

Ali Salmeen, UAE midfielder

Salmeen, 23, who has played in every minute of the UAE’s five games so far, said members of the squad were not paying attention to social media – the match is taking place amid a political rift with Qatar.

Police in Abu Dhabi warned supporters to show “good sportsmanship” on social media and inside the stadium, as the eyes of the world are on the UAE for today’s fixture.

“I consider this a football game of 90 minutes,” Salmeen said.

“Our focus is on the pitch. We don’t pay attention to social media. Our main focus is on the pitch, and to do very well on the pitch.”

Meanwhile, Emirati fans have been encouraging each other to behave respectfully.

One message that was widely circulated reminds fans to be gracious to those who attend the game and do not support the UAE.

“We extend our appreciation and respect for the spectators who came from afar to support and cheer on our team,” the message reads.

“There are non-Emiratis who support The Whites and others who support the opponent; therefore, I urge everyone not to offend these fans or their homelands and to show sportsmanship and respect to all the Arab fans as long as they are committed to the rules and regulations in the stadium.”

Qatar’s coach said his side been treated well during their stay in the UAE.

Felix Sanchez said tournament organisers had been “very polite and helpful” and also praised the facilities provided to his squad.

The Spaniard spoke to the media after some Qatari fans complained on social media that the Abu Dhabi Sports Council’s move to buy up all remaining tickets would hand the host nation an unfair advantage.

The political rift between the UAE and Qatar meant very few Qatari fans travelled to attend their side’s games and the ticket giveaway meant no Qatar supporters were able to obtain tickets through official channels at short notice.

There have also been reports that Qatar’s players faced stricter security restrictions than those from other nations’ teams. But their manager insisted his footballers had been treated well and raised no concerns about the ticketing issue.

“We are going to face another game with a great football atmosphere, we hope with fair play, like it has been [so far],” Mr Sanchez said.

Updated: January 28, 2019 09:34 PM

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