Theyab Awana mourned by thousands at funeral
ABU DHABI // They came in their thousands to mourn the talented young footballer who had the world at his feet, only to have it snatched away in a moment.
Just after Theyab Awana's body was lowered into his final resting place at Baniyas graveyard, distraught fans who had come from all over the country ran to the plot for a final glimpse of the player who found fame not only in the UAE, but all over the world.
"What a waste, what a waste," wept Mohammed Al Kutbi, 20. "I knew him from around school and from the neighbourhood.
"Ever since he was a boy he wanted to play for the national team. We all did but he actually made it, and he deserved it because he was practising all the time. It seemed that that's all he ever did."
Khalifa Al Qahtani, 16, said: "I was shocked and couldn't believe it when I heard this morning that he died.
"I really liked him a lot, especially after he did the back-heel kick. That's when I knew he had the skills to play not only on a UAE national [level], but also on an international one."
Fellow footballers in their playing strips stood together at the graveside and prayed for Awana's soul.
Also in attendance were Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, and Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed, chief of the Court of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, who prayed side by side.
"We are mourning the death of a young man, a talented player and a person who was inspiration to us all," said Sultan Al Balooshi, 46, one of the mourners.
"It is tragic that he was taken so soon. He was like a son to us all, someone we all hoped our sons could become like."
The funeral began about 4pm as mourners gathered for the young player who became famous for scoring a back-heeled penalty during the UAE's 6-2 friendly win against Lebanon last July.
Buses belonging to his club, the Baniyas Sports Club, the Al Wasl and Al Ahli football clubs and the UAE Football Association also brought dozens of players, many of whom were kitted out in club shirts.
After funeral prayers, hundreds of mourners went to witness the young man's body being lowered into the grave, about a kilometre from the mosque.
Sheikh Saif, also the president of the Baniyas Sports Club, and Sheikh Hamed accompanied Awana's body to the grave and looked on, sadness etched on their faces, as the young footballer was lowered by his brother Raad and his father into his final resting place.
Raad broke down in tears, then collapsed to the ground in grief moments after his brother was put into the ground.
Sheikh Saif rushed to help him to his feet, then took him aboard the Football Club bus where he spent five minutes consoling him.
Many people remained at the grave for almost an hour, kneeling on the ground, their hands cupped in prayer as an imam read from the Quran.
Players from rival clubs and the international team, including Mohammed Al Shehhi and Ismail Matar, walked away from the gravesite in tears, inconsolable.
After the funeral, Sheikh Saif said "wasted young talents in the country due to the unfortunate result of traffic accidents was saddening".
He said it required all parties to continue efforts to stop road deaths, in accordance with "what the country has reached in progress and advancement in all fields".
"I am not announcing the death just by referring to him as a sportsman but as a local youth, talented and distinct, who contributed to raising the nation's flag high in several sporting events," Sheikh Saif said.
"And it is painful for all of us, for the country, to lose its energetic sons in avoidable accidents."
He called on youth and social groups, media and cultural associations to work immediately on raising awareness on the importance of driving cautiously.
Sheikh Saif said speed was the primary cause for most fatal accidents, and that "any time saved is useless if a person loses his life".
Brig Mattar Al Muhairi, the chairman of the Baniyas Sports Club, said the "shocking" death was a big loss to Emirati football and especially to his club.