Sebastian Tagliabue delighted to finally pull on the UAE shirt: 'I didn’t want to take it off ... it’s an amazing feeling'

Argentine-born striker received his UAE passport in January but has had to wait to play for the national team due to the coronavirus lockdown

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Sebastian Tagliabue waited that long to wear UAE colours, that once he had slipped finally into the national-team jersey, he wouldn't wear anything else.

“Of course, I didn’t want to take it off,” says the Argentine-born striker, a few days into his first training camp with his new teammates. “I wanted to live in that.

"It’s an amazing feeling - I sent a picture to my wife, my father, my friends, to everyone. I feel really amazing. I really love it.”

Tagliabue had been mooted to obtain UAE citizenship in 2018, following a change in regulations prompted by Sheikh Khalifa's Presidential decree the November before. Then with Al Wahda, Tagliabue had completed five years in the country, and has since climbed close to the all-time league goalscoring record. However, his UAE passport did not come through until this January.

Eligible to represent the national team – the Al Nasr summer signing, 35, has never played international football – he would have to wait even longer as the coronavirus struck and the UAE's remaining four 2022 World Cup qualifiers, initially scheduled for March and June, were postponed.

They take place instead in October and November, with the national team lying fourth in Group G, five points off leaders Vietnam, although they do have a game in hand. Only group winners are guaranteed to advance to the third and final round.

UAE shirt donned, Tagliabue is now very much a part of that bid. He was called up last week to Jorge Luis Pinto's first squad, the Colombian chosen last month to lead the UAE's quest to qualify for only a second World Cup in the country's history.

Based this past week in Al Ain, Tagliabue has enjoyed a warm welcome into the set-up.

“Amazing,” he says. “I’m really happy because everything is good: the training, the coach, his staff, the players. They received me in a very good way.

“Most of the players speak with me and treat me like we've seen each other many times. Because one thing is to play against – you say ‘Hello’, ‘how are you?’ and finish – and another is when you meet with them and have to make a connection to work together.


Tagliabue receives his UAE passport


“It’s not easy. But I’m very happy for this start, and as every training is going on I’m feeling more relaxed, more comfortable. It’s getting better and better.”

Tagliabue is not the only fresh face in Al Ain. There's Fabio De Lima, the Brazil-born attacking midfielder at Al Wasl, who too qualifies to represent the UAE, while another Brazil-born forward, Caio Canedo, will join up with the squad after Eid Al Adha.

Most notably, though, is the man selected to mastermind safe passage to the World Cup. A former manager of Colombia, Costa Rica and Honduras, Pinto's principal remit is to guide the UAE to the World Cup in two years' time.

“The coach has something I really like, which is he wants to work,” Tagliabue says. “He came here to teach us what he wants and we’re working towards that. I had many coaches in the past who say ‘OK, I want to make high pressure’, but we don ‘t work on that, or they say we will play defensive and we don’t train for that either.

“What this coach has is he tells us what he wants, but in the same way we go to the pitch and work on that. He’s very professional, a very serious guy.

“I have a very good feeling for the future. I don’t want to put any illusion on the fans because it’s very difficult what we have in front, but to be honest I have a good feeling. I believe we will be a very, very difficult team on the pitch to play against. I really like the idea this coach has about football.”


Tagliabue keeps fit at home during lockdown


Tagliabue says the squad seem excited and motivated for the challenge ahead, for the new ideas and the beginning of another era. Although he knows the players well, primarily through seven years in the Arabian Gulf League with Wahda, a few things have still surprised. For example, the acceleration of Ali Mabkhout, the UAE's all-time top scorer. Also, Omar "Amoory" Abdulrahman’s vision.

“Ali’s a very good player, high level, as I always say,” Tagliabue says. “Sometimes with a player like Ali, like Amoory, like all the players here in the national team, it’s not difficult because they always give the ball to you correctly. You just have to make the movement.

“I’m not saying it’s easy to play, because it’s not. But it’s easier sometimes to play with these players. So in my opinion, I can have a very good connection with Ali. From what I can see we can play together easily.

“And Amoory today is the best playmaker in the country. Not only because of his technique - always he is looking for the good pass to the front, to make a good assist, to create something for the team.

"He doesn’t play to show off to the people. He’s playing for the team and is always looking to do something for the team. So, of course, I’m excited. I can’t wait for the matches.”