UAE fans represent at Asian Cup quarter-final in Australia
SYDNEY // As the UAE’s Asian Cup quarter-final penalty shoot-out against Japan began, a TV camera at Stadium Australia zoomed in on an Emirati fan in full national dress. Overcome by tension, he was weeping.
Minutes later, the shoot-out won and the UAE through to a semi-final meeting today with the host team Australia, the fan’s tears were no longer of tension but of sheer joy.
UAE fans following their team around Australia have been thin on the ground – just a few dozen supporters have attended each of the team’s four matches. Their team, however, have rewarded them with some of the best football of the tournament.
Daniel Borg, an Australian whose wife is from the UAE, was at the team’s opening match against Qatar.
“I didn’t know what to expect in terms of atmosphere,” he said. “Much to my surprise the team played extremely well and the UAE fans showed great spirit and joy chanting and singing with drums, which added to the match-day experience. They were extremely loud, considering the small number.”
For the first two games, in Canberra, most of those waving UAE flags were young men and boys who attended school in Australia’s capital, part of an estimated 1,700 Emirati citizens living Down Under.
Fahed Al Mansouri, president of both the Al Ain and UAE supporters’ clubs, was one of the few Emiratis to make the long journey to Australia. He said the face of the support had changed as the tournament progressed.
“In Brisbane, against Iran, there were more students, not just from the UAE but from Saudi and other Arabian Gulf countries with us,” he said.
Iran had far more supporters, and the UAE were totally outnumbered when Mahdi Ali’s team met defending champions Japan on Friday.
“It was difficult,” Mr Al Mansouri said. “But there was a group of 30 to 40 Australians who supported us like it was their own country. It was beautiful.”
The UAE shocked Japan, winning 5-4 in the penalty shoot-out and earning new respect as an Asia footballing nation.
The doughty UAE fans will today be in Newcastle, north of Sydney, where they could be lost among Australia fans in the 23,000-capacity stadium.
“We will face difficulties,” Mr Al Mansouri said. “The stadium will be full of Australians.”
He said tickets have been harder to come by the longer the tournament has gone on. “Since the Japan match, we have not been able to get any tickets,” he said. “Thankfully, the UAE Football Association and our embassy stepped in and bought 100 excellent seats for us. I cannot thank them enough.”
Few expected the UAE to still be in the country to play in even the third-place match on Friday, let alone the final on Saturday.
Mr Al Mansouri was optimistic of going all the way. “Inshallah, the team will get to the final and the support will be there,” he said. “Even if it’s just one fan.”
Updated: January 26, 2015 04:00 AM