By the time the penalty was awarded in the 78th minute, Tuesday night’s international friendly between the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon had been winding towards a decisive conclusion for quite some time. With UAE already 5-2 up, questions of who took the penalty and how they did so should have been largely irrelevant.
Awana Diab had only been on the pitch of the Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium for three minutes, but his subsequent conversion from 12-yards blasted his name into the spotlight for other reasons. Stepping up to the spot as any cock-sure 21-year-old might, Diab then proceeded to swivel round and back-heel the ball into the net. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ultDaICPTB4).
Diab became an internet sensation overnight, quickly catapulted among the ranks of the other penalty-taking legends such Antonin Panenka. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tp2HZNheCZ8) Awesome stuff, really.
Except, no-one involved in the game itself seemed to share that mentality. Diab was swiftly booked and, watching the clip, this punishment seemed sort of fair for the same reason that a player celebrating in over-exuberant fashion might attract a similar reaction. But after Srecko Katanec, the UAE coach, hauled him off only ten minutes after sending him on looking incredibly displeased, the sense that something pretty out of order had just occurred could not be escaped.
It’s not so much that Diab was showboating; there is nothing wrong with providing such entertainment if it’s done with the correct attitude. The young Cristiano Ronaldo certainly overused stepovers and trickery and Robinho still does, but rarely were you left with the sense that either of them mocked their opponents. For an apt contrast, memories of Luis Nani’s notorious seven kick-ups while escaping the clutches of Justin Hoyte during Manchester United’s 4-0 romp over Arsenal in the FA Cup back in 2008 serve well. Nani was doing more than showboating; he was fairly obviously kicking his enemy while he was down, and there was a feeling that had Mathieu Flamini’s crunching slide-tackle moments later actually connected with the Portuguese’s ankle it would have been no more than he deserved. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dP11rk6GTpg)
Showing a flagrant lack of respect towards the opposition appears to be one of the cardinal sins in sport. Diab’s antics stank of a player kicking an opponent while he was down, and coach Katanec rightly recognised that there is no place for that in football. As Katanec stated afterwards, “this is not respect. He’s a young guy and he knows he made a mistake immediately. I just want him to show respect, not just on the field but off it as well”. The UAE Football Association shared the same point of view, and are currently reviewing whether Diab should receive disciplinary action.
To his credit, pulling off such a manoeuvre was incredibly impressive. But during the course of a professional encounter it just wasn’t acceptable. Diab subsequently recognised where he went wrong and offered his sincerest apologies. There is a place for such displays, but it is on the training pitch, as Francesco Totti so brilliantly shows: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mLrxVPlZLMg)