Abu Dhabi â The taxi driver left me in front of Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium, home of Abu Dhabiâs Al Jazira Club. The vibe didnât indicate that thereâd be a soccer match here: there were no crowds to be seen â there really wasnât anyone around, except for a few policemen â and of course, no street vendors peddling beverages of any kind. I walked across the parking lot looking for the box office and was soon told I could just pick up a ticket from one of the men Iâd refused to speak to a while earlier, believing they were illegal ticket dealers.
The game between home team Al Jazira and Dubaiâs Hatta Club, for the UAEâs 2017/2018 Arab Gulf League season, on Saturday, February 23, was free admission. Ticket in hand, I got searched by security and climbed the stairs towards the stands.
I sat near the Al Jazira âdrummers.â They really had a few bass drums that werenât even being played, except for one or two kids whoâd beat them every now and again. The game had begun. A few minutes into it, Ali Mabkhout took a pass and scored for the home team, bringing joy to the 200-some fans in the premises (by the unofficial, unreliable calculations of this reporter).
While the players ran across the field trying to score, most of the fans were eating peanuts, one of the few traditions that reminded me of soccer matches in Brazil. During intermission, I got up to get water and saw a line that was forming in an area meant for prayers. That reminded me of Brazil again, but Brazilian fans usually get on their knees to ask for help from God for their own teams.
I guess I was unlucky picking a game to attend, but from what I could gather watching TV during my two-week stay in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, few are the fans who go to matches here. Another stroke of bad luck: unlike what I thought in taking the cab to Al Jaziraâs stadium, this was not Sheikh Zayed Stadium, where Brazilâs GrĂȘmio played the FIFA Club World Cup final in December 2017. That was the place I wanted to see the most.
About the game? Al Jazira dominated the first half. One of its players is Romarinho, a Brazilian attacker who came up in Corinthians and who was one of the heroes who won Copa Libertadores in 2012. He didnât play a standout game and got replaced during intermission. Hatta has two Brazilians in its roster: midfielder Fernando Gabriel and attacker Samuel Rosa. Only Rosa wasÂ in the game, but he failed to prevent the Dubai team from losing: a minute after Mohamed Jamal scored a goal to tie the match, 10 minutes into the second half, Mabkhout scored 2 to 1, and that was how the game ended.
Translated by Gabriel Pomerancblum