Al Wasl’s Fabio De Lima has become the latest footballer to be granted UAE citizenship, meaning he is now free to represent the national team.
The Brazil-born forward, who has played for the Dubai club since 2014, joins former teammate Caio Canedo, now of Al Ain, and Al Wahda striker Sebastian Tagliabue in obtaining UAE passports.
The move was made possible following a change in regulations triggered by a Presidential decree issued by Sheikh Khalifa in November 2017. While the new status makes the players eligible for the national team, the Football Association has yet to make an official announcement.
Aged 26, De Lima is the youngest of the three. The former Vasco da Gama playmaker, voted the 2016-17 Arabian Gulf League’s foreign player of the year, has played 130 top-flight matches for Wasl, scoring 102 goals. Often linked with a transfer outside the UAE, he is widely viewed as one of the most talented players in the Arabian Gulf League.
The trio’s availability for the UAE – all three are attack-minded – comes at an opportune time as the national team seek to qualify for the 2022 World Cup. Currently, they sit fourth in the five-team Group G in the second round of qualification, five points off leaders Vietnam, although they have played one game fewer than each of their pool rivals.
They resume the campaign with next month’s double-header at home to Malaysia and away to Indonesia. Only the top team from each of the eight groups are guaranteed to advance to the third and final round, with the four best runners-up also progressing.
Ivan Jovanovic was appointed as UAE manager in December following the dismissal of Dutch counterpart Bert van Marwijk. The Serb, who previously enjoyed domestic and regional success with Dubai’s Al Nasr, is expected to name his first competitive squad early next month.