Zakaria has an empty feeling

UAE give Iran a scare before succumbing to the favourites as sizeable brigade of visiting supporters loudly cheer on their side.

The UAE won the first set against Iran before going down 25-21, 18-25, 13-25, 16-25.
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Whatever the sport, UAE fans are always conspicuous by their absence.

The football teams have played in front of virtually empty stands and last night it was the turn of Ahmed Zakaria, the new volleyball coach, to experience that apathy. Playing at the Al Shabab Club in Dubai, Zakaria could have been forgiven for thinking he might be in Tehran with a sizeable brigade of Iran supporters loudly cheering on their side.

There was hardly a clap for the home team, but they still managed to win the first set against the favourites for the 12th Sheikh Rashid International Volleyball Tournament before losing 25-21, 18-25, 13-25, 16-25. Zakaria, who was the Egypt national team coach before taking the UAE job, is more used to seeing packed galleries supporting his side, but he has already come to terms about this aspect of sports in the UAE.

"This is normal in the UAE," he said. "You see that happening in football matches and every other sport. But I am hoping this will change and we will get more spectators coming here to support us. "We are trying to build a good side and the support of the fans is really important for this." Zakaria took over the reins of the UAE just three weeks ago and has struggled to put his best team together, with many important players missing out due to injuries and work commitments. The coach, however, was happy with the performance of his players.

"Iran thought they could beat us 3-0, but we showed we can fight," Zakaria said. "We played very well and surprised them. We continued to play well in the second set, but mid-way through the third, Iran took control. "We are still missing a good, experienced central-blocker. If we can find someone for that spot, I think we could be a good side." It was the second win for Iran, but Akbari Payman, the coach, was clearly not impressed with the attitude of some his players in the game as they seemed to be taking the match lightly.

"I am not satisfied with the performance of my players," he said. "The players were not serious enough in the first set. They seemed to be short on motivation and taking the game lightly. I was forced to change these players and I think the substitutions worked for us. My players are thinking this is an easy tournament, but they are wrong. I have been trying to tell them it is very, very hard and very important for us because we are representing the country.

"I am going to talk to them, work on the psychological side of the players. But if they don't understand, then I will be forced to make changes for the next game against India. I have 12 players here and all of them are good."