Ali Thani waited 24 years to get the autograph of his 1990 World Cup coach on a red-and-white UAE shirt.
Finally, at age 45, the former Sharjah midfielder got the signature of Carlos Alberto Parreira on his No 3 strip.
Thani and his 1990 teammate Abdulrahman Al Haddad were reunited with Parreira at the Brazil team training camp during the recent 2014 World Cup.
“The reunion with Parreira was very emotional,” Thani said. “It was like a father-and-child reunion.
“When he saw us for the first time it was during a news conference for the Brazil team. He paused the news conference to welcome and introduce us.”
Thani and Al Haddad travelled to Brazil as part of a documentary that is being filmed to chronicle the history of the 1990 UAE team, the country's first and still the only to qualify to play in the world's most popular sports event.
Image Nation, producers of the documentary, flew the two former players to Brazil to meet up with Parreira, as well as tour the Brazil camp, watch the host side during training and watch a match at the Estadio Maracana.
“The trip to Brazil was beyond imagination. I cannot describe the feelings I had,” Thani said.
Parreira, who as technical director worked with coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, introduced the Emiratis to many of Brazil’s players.
“Twenty-four years ago I was coached by the same manager who looks after these players,” Thani said. “Many of them were not born at that time.
“They did not believe I still have the shirt I used to wear during Italia ’90 until I showed it to them and asked Parreira to sign it.”
Parreira coached the UAE national team from 1984 to 1988, before moving to Saudi Arabia. His compatriot, Mario Zagallo, took over the UAE team and successfully led them through Asian Football Confederation qualifying for the World Cup in Italy, clinching a place in the finals with a 1-1 draw with South Korea in Malaysia.
The UAE Football Association recalled Parreira to coach the side in the World Cup.
The Emiratis lost 2-0 to Colombia, 5-1 to Germany and 4-1 to Yugoslavia. In that latter game, it was Thani who scored the UAE goal with a header in the 22nd minute.
The journey to Brazil by Thani and Al Haddad will form part of the Image Nation film, led by creative producer Stevan Riley, that will combine archive footage, interviews and new on-location shots.
Describing his reunion with Parreira as “wonderful”, Al Haddad said: “I considered making a similar trip a long time ago, but circumstances did not allow me, at the time.
“One day I received a call from Image Nation, and they told me about the brilliant documentary and surprised me with this trip to Brazil to reunite with Parreira.”
The UAE has not returned to the World Cup finals since the 1990 pioneers won a place.
“At the time, we were a group of amateur players, many making sacrifices to play and represent our country,” Thani said. “Many had left their families, others left their jobs, just to be able to play in the World Cup qualifications. Nobody expected us to beat all the odds and qualify.
“I still remember the match we played in the qualifications phase against China,” a 2-1 victory that proved pivotal to qualifying. “Everybody was excited, determined to prove ourselves fit to play at the World Cup.”
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