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Some Really Ugly Soccer

August 26th, 2015 · No Comments · Arabian Gulf League, Drugs, Football, soccer, The National

This was predictable. A UAE team playing in Tehran against an Iranian team in the quarterfinals of the Asian Champions League

No way it was going to come off as a tribute to sportsmanship.

But the reality was even uglier than I had expected, mostly (thankfully) in small, petulant ways — jersey-grabbing, shin-kicking, faking, diving, acting and bitching at the poor Japanese referee, who could not possibly have been paid enough to put up with this behavior — and especially that from the about-to-lose-their-minds Iranian side.

Pretty much, it was relentlessly chicken-sh*t, and I wish I had kept a clock on how much time was actually spent playing the game. I am confident most of the 90 minutes (plus six added on) was given over to pushing and pointing and remonstrating with the ref.

It was a sorry, petty-violent-even-while-being-dreary advertisement for Asian soccer.

How much of it was about one soccer culture or the other, and how much of it had socio-political roots … hard to say. But Iran playing the UAE (or Saudi Arabia or Qatar) is very unlikely to be a monument to good behavior

Luckily, the UAE’s Al Ahli, which generally seemed the aggrieved party in this mess, beat Naft Tehran 1-0.

Finishing ahead in Iran is always an achievement for an Emirati club, given that the Iranian league is ranked on a slightly higher level, and the sense of being under siege that UAE teams must confront, while in Iran.

It was in Iran that Al Jazira’s goalkeeper, Ali Kashief, came up with the extraordinarily clever (but also infamous) stratagem of untying his own shoelaces to help kill the clock, with his team leading 1-0 early in the second half.

That was tacky but it at least does not include any physical violence.

Ahli versus Naft was very hard to watch so, of course, I watched the whole of it — in the offices of The National.

Iran and the Arab world, generally, have issues. If anything, it may be even more intense in the UAE, which believes Iran’s occupation of several islands in the Strait of Hormuz is illegal, a seizure of UAE property.

The UAE, too, is closer to Iran, physically, than any Arab country aside from a few bits of Oman.

Football clubs from the opposite sides of the Arabian Gulf (a usage that drives Persians/Iranians crazy) tend to bump into each other fairly regularly. If not on the international level, certainly on the club level.

Each country typically has four teams in the group stages of the Asian Champions League, one in each of four divisions, so a home-and-away is required.

I have seen many of these, over the past five years, and nearly all of them are unattractive, chippy affairs. Another UAE goalkeeper, Majed Naser is serving a suspension from the competition for a confrontation with an Iranian photographer, a year ago.

Certainly, everyone would concede the UAE’s football culture includes a wide cynical side. Stalling, time-wasting, injury-faking, diving … the game is played that way here.

What I have seen of Iran teams, though — and this is through the lens of matches versus UAE teams — is that they tend to be much closer to physical violence. In the game tonight, the Naft defender Jalal Hosseini seemed on the verge of punching someone for at least the last hour. How he managed to escape a caution is a mystery to me.

The interesting/dreary thing? These teams play again, in Dubai, on September 16. A draw puts Ahli into the continent’s semifinals, which would be a big deal. But Naft certainly is not out of it, trailing only 1-0.

The September 16 game, too, is almost sure to be painful to watch, too. Which we can expect until the Asian Confederation empowers referees to hand out cautions like candy, perhaps enforcing a modicum of decorum in that fashion. Maybe a match ending with nine a side might get players to reconsider how they approach these matches.


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