UAE’s match against West Germany at Italia ‘90 remains a high-water mark

24 years on, fans in the UAE are still waiting for the national team to return to those heights

The UAE taking on West Germany in Milan, Italy, during the 1990 World Cup. Photo courtesy Al Ittihad
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On this day 24 years ago – June 15, 1990 – the UAE national team played the biggest match in the country's football history.

Their second group match at Italia ’90 proved to be a painful experience, the Emiratis going down 5-1 to West Germany at the San Siro stadium in Milan.

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But the scoreline overlooks the bigger picture. This was a magnificent German team that won the competition by beating Argentina 1-0 in the final in Rome.

Franz Beckenbauer’s team also thrashed an excellent Yugoslavia 4-1 in Group D, in which the UAE lost all three games. Colombia were the other team in the group

In Milan, in one of the biggest World Cup mismatches, the UAE held the Germans at bay for more than half an hour. In goal Mohsin Musabah performed heroics and the German strikers, led by Jurgen Klinsmann, were denied several clear-cut chances.

Then two quick goals, by Rudi Voller in the 35th minute and Klinsmann two minutes later, looked to have brought the Emirati resistance to an end.

Yet when Carlos Alberto Parreira's team came out for the second half, they had renewed spirit.

Within a minute of the restart, Khalid Ismail scored one of the UAE's most famous goals to halve the deficit and allow the few Emirati fans inside the stadium, and thousands back home, to dream of a famous comeback.

Sadly, the dream lasted barely a minute as German captain Lothar Matthaus scored a superb, curled goal to restore the two-goal lead.

Further strikes by Uwe Bein and Voller completed the rout and, having lost their opening match 2-0 to Colombia, the UAE were on their way out of the World Cup.

In the stands of the San Siro, a lone fan stood waving the UAE flag. He knew there was no shame in losing to such an experienced team – simply qualifying for the tournament was the UAE's biggest achievement.

Twenty-four years on, we are still waiting for that feat to be emulated.

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