From Diego Maradona to Fabio Cannavaro - the UAE's World Cup connections

Ahead of the 2022 tournament in Qatar, a look at players and managers who made an impact at the global finals and in the Emirates

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Some of the World Cup’s standouts through history have enjoyed an affiliation with UAE football at some point in their careers. Here, we highlight a select group who have had a sizeable impact on the game’s grandest stage.

Diego Maradona

World Cup-winning captain with Argentina in 1986, runner-up four years later, and manager of his national team in 2010, arguably the game’s greatest-ever exponent coached Al Wasl between 2011 and 2012. He then made a surprise appearance at second-division Fujairah, although lasting less than one year, from May 2017. Also employed as a Dubai Sports Council ambassador.

Fabio Cannavaro

Captained Italy to victory in 2006, when the Azzurri triumphed on penalties against France. The centre-back, who won that year’s Ballon d’Or - one of only three defenders in history to scoop the award - concluded his hugely successful club career at Al Ahli, joining the Dubai club following the 2010 World Cup. However, injury restricted him to a single season, although he did then become part of the coaching staff.

Mario Zagallo

One of only three man to have won the World Cup as both player and manager - Franz Beckenbauer and Didier Deschamps the others - the Brazilian was part of his country's wins in 1952 and 1962 as a tricky left winger. He returned to lead Brazil from the dugout to the 1970 crown, and was an assistant coach during the 1994 triumph. Before that last hurrah, he was in charge of the UAE from 1989 to 1990, overseeing their only qualification for a World Cup. He left before the finals in Italy, though.

Carlos Alberto Parreira

With the distinction of managing a joint-record five countries at the World Cup, the Brazilian guided his homeland to the title in 1994, where they defeated Italy on penalties in the final. Had by then already managed the UAE twice, including as a late replacement in 1990 following Zagallo’s shock departure. Also managed Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and South Africa at finals.


The former Brazil full-back was a member of Parreira’s successful 1994 side, playing every match until his final was ended prematurely, by injury, 21 minutes in against Italy. He then went on to serve his national team as assistant manager between 2006-2010. Was appointed Al Wasl head coach in 2014 but lasted only four months in Dubai. His record there read six competitive matches, with a solitary victory.

David Trezeguet

The striker was part of the France squad that lifted the 1998 World Cup, where they defeated Brazil on home soil. However, his bit-part role in that ecstasy turned to a major hand in the agony of 2006, when he missed his penalty in the showpiece shootout against Italy. Signed for Baniyas in 2011, but left a few months and two league appearances later, citing injury.

Luca Toni

A late bloomer, the balky frontman was named in the team of the tournament in 2006 having helped Italy to their fourth World Cup crown, where he scored two goals in the quarter-final win against Ukraine. He would eventually sign for Al Nasr in early 2012 but made little impact. Although he scored five goals in 10 appearances, was released by the Dubai club five months into his stay.

Zlatko Dalic

One of the surprise stories of the past World Cup, the Croat guided his country to the final in 2018, only to lose 4-2 to France. His most recent appointment before that? Al Ain, where he spent almost three years from March 2014. There, he led the Garden City club to a league title, a President’s Cup crown, and to within one match of lifting a second Asian Champions League.

Bert van Marwijk

The last man to take the Netherlands to within a match of securing the game’s most coveted trophy, the Dutchman was at the helm when his country lost 1-0 to Spain in extra-time in the 2010 World Cup final. Would manage the UAE sometime later, in two stints: the first in 2019 and then latterly from 2020. Dismissed in February amid the UAE’s bid to reach the Qatar finals.

Asamoah Gyan

Africa’s all-time leading scorer at the World Cup, the Ghana international struck six times during three editions of the tournament from 2006 to 2014. Notched Ghana’s first World Cup goal, in 2006, while the circumstances surrounding his penalty miss against Uruguay in 2010 remain one of the most infamous in recent memory. Starred at Al Ain from 2011 to 2015, winning numerous titles, before a brief-but-disappointing spell at Al Ahli a year later.

Bruno Metsu

Hugely popular manager masterminded one of the greatest upsets in tournament history, when he led Senegal to a famous victory against holders France in the competition opener in 2002 – Senegal’s World Cup debut. Managed the UAE and Al Ain, guiding the former to the 2007 Gulf Cup crown and the latter to domestic and continental success, in 2003. Also coached Al Wasl, in 2012, before serious illness.

Updated: September 30, 2022, 4:26 AM