2003 U20 World Cup: Ismail Matar carried UAE and outshone Andres Iniesta

Amith Passela recounts how Ismail Matar emerged as an Emirati star at the 2003 Fifa World Youth Championships.
Emirati Ismail Matar fights for the ball with Amadou Coulibaly of Burkina Faso during their 2003 Fifa World Youth Championship group match in Abu Dhabi. Karim Jaafar/ AFP / December 4, 2003
Emirati Ismail Matar fights for the ball with Amadou Coulibaly of Burkina Faso during their 2003 Fifa World Youth Championship group match in Abu Dhabi. Karim Jaafar/ AFP / December 4, 2003

ABU DHABI // While the UAE did not win the 2003 Fifa Under 20 World Cup, it would prove to be a catalyst for one of their players to step up and become a household name across the country.

Ismail Matar was the face of the UAE’s run to the quarter-finals of the tournament.

The Emirati forward, now 32, was central to much of what was good in the home country’s performances at that youth tournament; the highlight being the only scorer in the last 16 against Australia.

Matar had made his senior club debut for Al Wahda in the 2001/02 season and had already shown hints of his talent, but the 2003 Fifa World Youth Championships was where he first showed a domestic audience what he could do on an international stage.

Driven by Matar, the UAE reached the quarter-finals and the Wahda youngster was, somewhat surprisingly, awarded the Golden Ball for the tournament’s best player, ahead of the likes of Brazil’s Fernandinho and Spain’s Andres Iniesta.

Was he as good technically as those players? Probably not. But almost single-handedly getting a side, who have only been to the senior World Cup finals once in their history, to the last eight where they were eliminated by Colombia, 1-0, was a fine achievement.

Following that tournament Matar would go on to enjoy a successful career with both his club and senior national team.

Besides a brief loan spell with Qatari side Al Sadd in 2009, Matar has remained with Wahda and has been capped more than 100 times by his country. The highlight of his career came in 2007 when he scored five goals in five games as the UAE won the Gulf Cup of Nations for the first time in their history.

Six years later he became the only Emirati player to win the Gulf Cup for a second time, though by 2013 he was no longer a first-choice for coach Mahdi Ali.

Matar also starred as the UAE competed at the 2012 London Olympics, scoring twice against Uruguay and Senegal in the group phase.

Also, Matar has helped Wahda to win the UAE league title twice, in 2005 and 2010, and has scored more than 80 goals in over 200 games for the Abu Dhabi club.

apassela@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter @NatSportUAE

Published: July 29, 2015 04:00 AM

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