2012: Looking back at UAE sport events

From Tiger Woods appearing in Abu Dhabi to Samoa triumphing at the Dubai Sevens, there was plenty to keep sports fans in the UAE happy in 2012.

Roger Federer on his way to victory in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
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January 26

Tiger Woods makes Abu Dhabi debut

The American golfer is no stranger to the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, but a first sighting at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship swelled galleries to unprecedented levels. Woods was the star attraction in one of the most formidable fields in European Tour history, and his results through the first three days suggested that a return to his past form might not be wholly fanciful. He leaned on Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy, seasoned performers here, for the opening rounds before enjoying a Sunday shoot-out with Robert Rock, a relative unknown from England who extended Woods's championship drought - which would end two months later.

January-February

England's tour of the UAE against Pakistan

Top-quality cricket is not unusual in the UAE, going back to the glory days of the 1980s and 1990s, nor since it returned as an international destination in 2006 and especially not since Pakistan began using the Emirates as a home venue. But the

was easily the best full tour to be hosted here. The emphatic score line of the Tests (3-0 to Pakistan) and ODIs (4-0 to England) do not reveal the true nature of some intriguing, closely fought games. Two Tests were humdingers and the result of the series was one that rang loudest through the year of cricket; the world's No 1 side toppled by arguably the world's craziest side. The crowds were reasonable for the Tests and very good for the limited-over games, a reminder that the UAE is an ideal and historic location for international cricket.

February 22

28,724 see UAE Olympic team close in on London

One day before the match, Mahdi Ali, the Emirati coach, had called on "anyone who loves his country" to attend the crucial Olympic qualifying tie against Australia at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, and he was rewarded by the biggest crowd to see a national team play since 2001. Mahdi Ali's side, in turn, gave the singing, flag-waving supporters reason to celebrate with a

leaving the UAE footballers on the brink of qualifying for their first Olympics.

March 3

Federer wins fifth Dubai Tennis Championship

Always a crowd favourite in Dubai,

delighted his fans with a 7-5, 6-4 victory over Andy Murray to win his fifth crown at the Aviation Club, and the first since 2007. "To hear my name resonate throughout the stadium was great," Federer said after the win. "I tell you, it gives you goose bumps. It's great motivation to play well. That's why I played so well this week, and particularly in the final." It was the first time Federer and Murray had played since the 2010 World Tour Finals, and they went on to clash four more times, including the Wimbledon and London Olympics finals. Every time Federer has triumphed in Dubai, he has gone on to win Wimbledon as well and it was the same in 2012.

March 11

Majed Naser hit with ban after slapping coach

As the Al Ahli players and staff celebrated a 1-0 win over Al Wasl in an Etisalat Cup semi-final, the losing goalkeeper, Majed Naser, got into an argument with Grafite and, after being pulled away from the Brazilian, approached the Ahli coach Quique Sanchez Flores from behind and slapped him on the back of the head. As the shocked Ahli players confronted him, Naser spat at the Ahli defender Yousuf Mohamed and was pulled away from the scene by the Wasl coach, Diego Maradona. The outburst led to a 17-match suspension by the UAE Football Association. Naser, however, was guilty of another eruption in the GCC Champions League final against Al Muharraq, butting Ismail Abdul Latif to earn a red card in the 10th minute. He was later shipped off to Ahli.

March 14

Fightback puts UAE footballers in London Olympics

Behind 2-0 after 46 minutes, the UAE Under 23 team seemed heading for a crushing defeat on the cold and wet pitch at JAR Stadium in Tashkent. The hosts, Uzbekistan, would qualify for London 2012 with a victory, and at 2-0 it seemed inevitable. However, Ahmed Khalil (left, above) scored two remarkable goals, with a free kick and a volley, in five minutes to level. Haboush Saleh won it for the Emiratis in added time, and

with one of the most remarkable performances in the country's history.

March 31

Godolphin's Monterosso wins Dubai World Cup

The expression "Godolphin drought" had entered the lexicon of horse racing, referring to the stable founded by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. Not since 2006 had a Godolphin horse won the US$10 million (Dh36.7m) Dubai World Cup, Sheikh Mohammed's creation and the world's richest race as well as the richest meeting. On a warm Saturday night, Godolphin's Monterosso finished first under Mickael Barzelona, and stablemate Capponi was second. Cityscape won the $5m Dubai Duty Free and Cirrus Des Aigles the $5m Dubai Sheema Classic.

March

ICC World T20 qualifiers

If the International Cricket Council Champions Trophy was not being killed off next year after a final showing in England, it would be easy to see it being hosted in the UAE. The region's infrastructure is ideal for a short, sharp tournament of the world's top eight sides. Proof of that was evident in the World T20 qualifiers, held across Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, to determine which two Associate teams would compete in the World T20 in Sri Lanka in September. Sixteen teams, from Afghanistan to Papua New Guinea to Denmark, battled it out over 12 days and 72 matches (Ireland and Afghanistan went through). The tournament went off so smoothly that it will be held here again in 2013. And in 2014, the UAE will host its most high-profile global event, the Under 19 World Cup.

July 10

Maradona fired by Pro League side Al Wasl

Diego Maradona's turbulent time as the coach of the Dubai side Al Wasl came to end after 422 days of high drama, but little else. The Argentine legend was dismissed midway through his two-year contract after a disappointing season that saw the team finish eighth in the Pro League. They failed to progress beyond the second round in the President's Cup and lost in the semi-finals of the Etisalat Cup. The final straw was the loss in the final of the GCC Champions League. Wasl seemed to have the title in their grasp after winning the away leg of the final against Al Muharraq 3-1, but the Bahraini club, helped by Majed Naser's early red card, took the second leg 3-1 and triumphed 5-4 in the penalty shootout. That defeat led to the resignation of the club's board and the new committee showed Maradona the door three weeks later.

July 26

UAE give Uruguay a scare at London Olympics

Ismail Matar's calm exploitation of a defensive lapse gave the Emiratis a 22nd-minute lead over a Uruguay side featuring Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. The South Americans, ranked No 3 in the world, were at risk throughout, as 60,000 watched on at Manchester, before they secured a 2-1 victory over the UAE. Said Matar, the captain: "I think we played a great game." It was not the only encouraging performance by the Emiratis. The Olympic football debutants were level with Great Britain with 18 minutes to play, at Wembley three days later; and they held Senegal 1-1 at Coventry on August 1.

August 4

Schoolgirl becomes UAE’s first Olympic weightlifter

Khadija Mohammed learnt she had been selected for London 2012 via a phone call on the way out of an Arabic exam on her 17th birthday and the Dubai schoolgirl became the country’s first weightlifting Olympian. However, her moment of history nearly never happened. Missing her family back at home as the Games fell during Ramadan, the teenager was riven by homesickness. Two days before her event, she tearfully asked to be flown home. The Emirates Weightlifting Federation persuaded her to stay, and she lifted a total 113 kilograms at the Excel Arena in east London, while competing in the 75kg class. “When she appeared in the competition, she seemed very cool, which surprised me a lot,” said Sultan bin Mejren, the president of the sports’ governing body in the UAE. “We really appreciate what she has done. Her appearing in the Olympic Games is history.”

August-September

Australia’s tour of the UAE against Pakistan

International cricket (or any sport, for that matter) played during peak summer months in the UAE? You would not have thought it possible. Yet Australia agreed to play six games (three ODIs and three Twenty20s) against Pakistan, admittedly after considerable reluctance. Officials were sent to check weather conditions, start times were moved back (meaning matches finished at crazy hours), more drinks breaks were introduced and ice vests used. Ultimately, it worked fantastically. The heat and humidity became an extra player as well as the backdrop to an engaging mini-series. The matches were hard fought, the physical toll they took on super-fit players another layer. Above all the crowds were fantastic throughout.

September 4

For all the success of the London 2012 Olympics, many observers regarded the Paralympics which followed as an even greater triumph. That was certainly the case for the UAE. While Emirati aspirations went mostly unfulfilled during the first two weeks, their Paralympians delivered like never before. The UAE contingent brought back a gold, silver and bronze from London. Abdullah Sultan Al Aryani started the unprecedented run of national success, in the sport in which the UAE has its deepest Olympic pedigree: shooting. The Al Ain marksman won gold in the mixed R6 50m air rifle prone SH1 on Day 6 of the Games. “It’s amazing,” he said after his victory. “It’s a dream – the first time I have won gold and the first gold medal for UAE in this competition. It’s everything for me.”

September 9

Hammadi adds bronze to silver at London

After Abdullah Sultan Al Aryani had set the bar for UAE Paralympians by taking shooting gold, Mohammed Hammadi helped himself to a slice of history, too. The Emirati athlete became the first UAE Olympian to collect two medals at a Paralympics, when he added bronze in the 100-metre wheelchair T34 to his earlier silver in the 200m race. Most athletes would regard success like that as mission accomplished. Hammadi, though was already looking to further glories. He said he would start readying himself to go for gold in Rio de Janeiro in four years’ time from the moment he returned home from the UK. “There is no harm in aiming for the sky,” Hammadi said. “Now I have the experience and next time I not only want to win gold but establish new marks, inshallah.”

October 8

UAE drivers win on two continents

Khalid Al Balooshi became the first driver from the Middle East, and only the third non-American, to win in the elite Top Fuel category in a National Hot Rod Association event, in the US state of Pennsylvania. The Dubai racer hit a top speed of more than 526kph while winning the 3.735-second race in the world’s fastest form of motorsport. Earlier in the day, in Egypt, Khalifa Al Mutaiwei won the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies title eight years after he first won it. The Emirati had come out of retirement to return to the series and he won the title for a second time.

November 4

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix sees Vettel fightback

The fourth Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit was the medium for viewing Sebastian Vettel’s fierce determination to win the world title for a third successive year. The Red Bull Racing driver had started last after his car was found to have insufficient fuel, post-qualifying. Rubbishing the notion that passing is nigh impossible at Yas Marina, the German charged through the field to finish an astonishing third, behind Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso, in front of the crowd of 50,000 in attendance and millions across the world watching on television. The points won proved crucial in helping Vettel become the youngest three-time champion in F1 history later in the month in Brazil.

November 9

Jebel Ali Dragons win UAE Premiership

In what was probably the highest standard domestic rugby match seen on these shores, Jebel Ali Dragons finally ended their XVs drought by beating Abu Dhabi Harlequins in the UAE Premiership grand final. The loss was only the second defeat the Harlequins suffered in all of 2012 in the format. Each of them were costly, though. The previous defeat, to Dubai Hurricanes in February, had also cost them the previous edition of the Premiership. Atypically, the Dragons saved their best for last. The perennial bridesmaids of the 15-a-side game here have been used to sweeping all before them, in recent years, then stumbling at the last hurdle. This time, they unleashed Sean Crombie, a former Scotland sevens player, on their unsuspecting rivals – with dramatic success.

November 25

McIlroy underlines position as golf’s No 1

A season born in Abu Dhabi concluded with confirmation in Dubai that Rory McIlroy now occupies a whole other level of golf. The Northern Irishman arrived at the National Course in January as the world No 3 and reigning US Open champion, yet having trumped Tiger Woods into second place, he returned to the Emirates to see out 2012 as golf’s undisputed top player. McIlroy, 23, was the established No 1 in Europe even before a ball was struck at the DP World Tour Championship. A first Race to Dubai crown had been sealed with two weeks to spare, but he was still intent on a fifth victory of a remarkable year and achieved it with birdies on the final five holes.

December 1

Samoa win the Dubai Sevens

The Dubai Rugby Sevens was memorable for three reasons: 1) it rained, the first time a Sevens has been seriously effected by storms since South Africa’s soggy success at the Exiles in 2006; 2) the most recognisable figures at the event were a cyclist, Bradley Wiggins, plus a bunch of ex-rugby league players from the Joining Jack charity side; and 3) because a new name was inscribed on the Emirates International Trophy, that of Samoa. Their success was telling of the influence the Pacific island nation wield in the sport, albeit much of it implicitly. New Zealand, who they beat in the final, were captained by DJ Forbes, who is half Samoan. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away in the UK, the Samoa-born Manu Tuilagi was leading England to a shock win over a full All Blacks side full of Samoans.

December 5

Falaknaz says plans in motion for Dubai 2024 Olympic bid

A Dubai bid to stage the 2024 Summer Olympics moved a step closer to reality when a leading official of the UAE National Olympic Committee confirmed the city has been making plans. Abdulrahman Falaknaz, the NOC finance director, said a bid would be made as soon as an expected go-ahead from the Government was forthcoming. “The UAE has the infrastructure, capability, manpower and know-how to host such events,” he said. “There is pressure on cities when they host huge events like the Olympics, but Dubai and the UAE can take it.” The city had contemplated a bid for the 2020 Games, but that race is now between Istanbul, Tokyo and Madrid. However, the NOC are committed to applying to stage the Games four years later. “I can assure you that our bid will be a comprehensive and winning bid,” Falaknaz said.