Legendary ambassadors for the country, the United Arab Emirates football team embarked on a fairy-tale journey into football history by qualifying for the FIFA World Cup in 1990. Facing formidable sides such as eventual winners West Germany, a dynamic Yugoslavia and the Rene Higuita-inspired Colombians, the UAE side went into the tournament as total unknowns.
Despite historic goals from Ali Thani and Khalid Ismail, the UAE bowed out at the group stage, conceding 11 times. Nonetheless, just being at the tournament was a fantastic achievement for a country formed just 19 years earlier.
Captain for that memorable tournament proudly wearing number 6 was Abdulrahman Mohamed of Al Nasr Club.
Footynions’ Dariush Kamyab caught up with the inspirational defender – now working as a football analyst – for a brief chat at the recent Dubai press conference launching the Football Fives World Championship, sponsored by Ford.
Dariush Kamyab: Mr. Abdulrahman, thank you so much for your time. What are your hopes for the future of the UAE National Team considering their recent successes at the Gulf Cup and their qualification to the 2012 Olympics?
Abdulrahman Mohamed: I think now we have good team, good players and the future will be very nice for the UAE team. If the team prepares well and plays good warm up games, I think they have a great chance to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
DK: In that case would you support the UAE FA keeping the same coach for the national team?
AM: I prefer to have the same coach because Captain Mahdi (Mahdi Ali) is good now for the team. He has won the Gulf Cup, and has qualified us unbeaten to the AFC Asian Cup in 2015 in Australia. I think he is doing a great job.
DK: As a UAE National Team veteran, tell us how it felt going to Italy to play in the World Cup in 1990
AM: It was something amazing for me to be in the World Cup. I had only seen such players on the television before, but going to Italy, you felt like a real player. Playing against those teams, seeing the thousands of fans, it was like a dream for me.
DK: What kind of legacy did the FIFA World Cup 1990 leave on the UAE national team?
AM: Of course we improved, we played against big teams, we got to watch amazing players, it was a good experience for everyone involved. Before 1990 no one had heard of the UAE, but qualifying for the World Cup made everyone speak about UAE and ask: ‘where did this team come from?’
DK: We have previously touched on the distinct absence of Emirati players making the top goal scoring lists in the UAE domestic league. Why do you think this is, and can an event like the F5WC help with this issue?
AM: I am aware of this. Most teams bring in foreign strikers – sometimes this is good, sometimes this is bad. It could be down to the fact that we lack good quality forwards up front – there are not many UAE strikers such as Ali Mabkhout or Ahmad Khalil out there. I think in the future we will definitely see more UAE strikers playing. Of course this event (the F5WC) will help all players; this is a good event for UAE football.
DK: Who do you think out of the current UAE squad is most destined for success?
AM: Right now, definitely Omar AbdulRahman is the best. I would say not just in the UAE, but the entire Gulf Region.
DK: Any tips for the FIFA World Cup 2014? Who will come out victorious?
AM: [Without hesitation] Spain!