Slovenian's day to shine

Cheers for Slovenia in Al Ain but watching Arabs are left disappointed as Algeria lose their first game.

AL AIN - JUNE 13,2010 - Football fan celebrates after Slovenia National team win against Algeria during the FIFA World Cup at Al Ain Rotana Hotel in Al Ain. ( Paulo Vecina/The National )

AL AIN // Dusan Brenec believes he may be the only Slovenian in the entire city. Yesterday he sat in a tent at the Al Ain Rotana Hotel, surrounded by 50 people from Tunisia, Morocco, the Emirates and other parts of the Arab world, to watch Algeria's first World Cup match against his home country's team.

On the ground was artificial turf marked with the white paint of a football pitch, above them flags of participating countries and in front of them were 15 television sets showing all the action. Mr Brenec, a construction manager, was pleased that his country of two million people even had a team in the World Cup. It was the smallest nation to qualify. "This means a lot, especially since we are a small country," Mr Brenec said. "This will show the world who we are. It's a matter of national pride."

Mr Brenec cheered excitedly, "Yes! Yes!" as the Algeria substitute Abdelkader Ghezzal was sent off after 72 minutes of the match, when he was shown a second yellow card for handling the ball inside the Slovenian penalty area. At the same time Omar al Othmani, an aircraft engineer from Tunis, shouted "No! No!" in dismay at the incident, which left Algeria with only 10 players. "This is not good."

The fact that Algeria were the only Arab team to make it to the World Cup, he said, was something that should unite all Arabs. "It doesn't matter where in the Arab world you are from, you should be cheering for Algeria," he said. When Slovenia's Robert Koren scored a late goal in the match, Mr Brenec raised his arms above his head with a triumphant yell and Mr al Othmani held his hands to his head pretending to pull his hair out.

The atmosphere provided some tense final minutes, as those who had gathered wondered if Algeria would score a much-needed point or Slovenia would take the game. When the referee whistled for the end of the match the Tunisians in the room, rooting for their Arab neighbours, shook their heads. Mr Brenec jumped out of his seat and began hugging and kissing those around him. "This is very good," he said. "Frankly, I didn't expect this."

The Rotana's World Cup venue will remain open throughout the whole month of the tournament, the final of which is on July 11. Although not making the journey to South Africa, guests who visit the Al Ain hotel for matches are given souvenir T-shirts that state: "I was there."