DUBAI // As his team warmed-up for the game against South Korea on Saturday night, UAE coach Dominique Bathenay sat transfixed in the dugout, gazing at the stands opposite him. It was packed with more than 5,000 fans, but not one of them had come to support the home side. Dressed in red, many of the South Koreans had flown in from surrounding Gulf countries - some had even made the long journey from home.
Behind Bathenay, there were less than 50 UAE supporters, lost among hundreds more South Korean fans. The Frenchman must have been wondering if he was playing at Al Nasr Club in Dubai or the Seoul World Cup Stadium. Probably reading his thoughts, a visiting journalist remarked: "We seem to be playing our home game tonight, eh". Bathenay, however, did not offer the lack of support as an excuse after his injury-wrecked side lost 2-0 to remain without a win Asian qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup.
"I am not saying we would have won the game if we had more support," he said. "We know we are not at the same level as South Korea. "But a bit of fan support would have certainly helped. Their presence would have encouraged the players to raise their levels and play a lot better. "It is really difficult for the players when you don't have any support in your own country. "Anyway, I congratulate the South Koreans on their qualification for the World Cup. They surely must have felt at home here and I am sure their fans enjoyed the game."
Deserted by their own fans, the UAE were listless throughout the game, especially after they lost their creative ace Ismail al Hammadi after just five minutes. In the absence of injured strikers Ismail Matar and Faisal Khalil, al Hammadi was expected to spark the UAE attack. But he fell awkwardly as he challenged for a ball in the midfield, injuring his left ankle. Four minutes after that dreadful start, Park Chu Young opened the scoring and Ki Sung Yueng doubled the tally in the 37th minute to condemn UAE to their sixth defeat in seven games of the qualifiers.
With just a single point, they are the worst-performing side among the 10 countries involved in the final round of Asian qualifying. They now have just one game to improve their position, against Iran in Tehran on June 10. Bathenay, however, will be struggling to find replacements for the injured players as well as midfielder Hilal Saeed, who received a red card in the 85th minute of the game. "I have to look for replacements now because we have lost Hammadi to injury and Hilal has got a red card," he said. "Faisal and Matar are already out.
"We will use younger players and try to do our best, but we know it will be really difficult." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org