Andres Iniesta puts on a show during exhilarating Emirates Club home debut

Spanish great helps his team fight for 4-4 draw against Ajman in Adnoc Pro League

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If the new phalanx of supporters of Emirates Club learnt anything after their first glimpse on home soil of Andres Iniesta, it is perhaps this: Do not be late, and make sure you stay all the way until the end, too.

Around 3,000 tickets were said to have been sold for the home debut of the Spanish great at his new club in Ras Al Khaimah on Friday evening.

Less than a third of that had made it there in time for the 6pm kick off. Which meant the majority missed the immediate impact he made.

It took 94 seconds for him to craft the opening goal of the game against Ajman in the Adnoc Pro League, chipping a free kick onto the head of Lithierry da Silva Neves, Emirates’ Brazilian forward.

While his new teammates celebrated euphorically, a chuffed Iniesta trotted slowly back to halfway on his own. Having only been in the country for a little over two weeks, maybe he has yet to learn the Arabic for: “Next job, lads.”

If his first impression will last, then it was his final contribution in the match which will leave the most indelible memory.

He almost scripted the most perfect finish to his opening night in RAK, dispatching a stoppage time penalty to give his side a 4-3 lead. It was only enough for a draw, though, as Ajman levelled later still.

Word had clearly got out about the arrival of the four-time Uefa Champions League winner.

Of course, the established fans knew all about it. Well ahead of kick off, homemade banners were hanging, saying, “Hola Andres Iniesta – Welcome to RAK,” and “Vamooos, Falcons!”

Casual supporters have had their curiosity piqued, too. In the stands were spectators wearing Barcelona shirts, as well as a Spain t-shirt, plus the Argentina No 10 of Lionel Messi, Iniesta’s former teammate.

It was not just those plotting his career path, either. There was a supporter wearing an Aston Villa top, another wearing Manchester City, one in Arsenal, and another sporting a Wales bucket hat.

Maybe now they all have another team to get behind. There was a 'feels like' temperature of 47º Celsius at kick off, yet still doing a good trade on green scarves. Not, you would assume, for their primary intended function of keeping out the biting cold of a northern European winter, but at least as a souvenir to remember the arrival of arguably the greatest star yet to play in UAE football.

Iniesta had made a late cameo a week earlier in defeat to Al Wasl in Dubai. This time around he started, and took the captain’s armband, too.

Despite their bright start, his side subsided alarmingly in the first half. The away side held a 3-1 lead at half time, thanks to goals from Abdullah Al Junaibi, Walid Azaro and Prestige Mboungou.

It could have been even worse straight after half time, but a penalty against Emirates – initially given by the referee for handball – was ruled out on VAR review.

All of which meant Iniesta was destined for a full shift. Given the sapping conditions, his newness to the surroundings, and the fact he is now 39, it seemed likely he would be given around an hour before being replaced. Instead, he ploughed on looking to help reduce the arrears.

In the 56th minute, he curved a free kick onto the top of the crossbar. Soon after, Ismail Al Hammadi pulled a goal back for the home team.

Iniesta went to the touchline, grabbed a small container of cold water, poured it over himself, and made straight back for the action. It appeared as if he said to his manager: “Do not take me off.”

Their rally was inspired. Franck Kom, their Cameroonian midfielder, hit an 89th minute leveller with a deflected shot from distance.

It felt as though it was written for Iniesta to be the matchwinner, and he came oh so close. After a foul on the corner of the box in stoppage time, the great man stepped up and crashed the penalty into the top left corner to give his side a 4-3 lead.

The party fell flat, though, when the visitors were granted a penalty of their own, from which they levelled.

Ali Madan chipped a Panenka in with the final kick of the game after Rocky Marciano, the Cameroonian sub for Ajman, was bundled over in the area.

Updated: August 26, 2023, 4:26 AM