Twenty years ago, this beach party was held on Abu Dhabi’s Breakwater to celebrate the opening of the UAE’s first major international football tournament, the 11th edition of the Asian Football Confederation’s Asian Cup.
The display of floating footballs and a laser light show across the Corniche must have caught the nation’s imagination: the tournament’s opening game attracted a 35,000-strong crowd to Sheikh Zayed Stadium when the hosts took on two-time AFC champions South Korea.
That game ended in a 1-1 draw but subsequent victories over Indonesia, Iraq and Kuwait, who were defeated 3-2 in the group stage and then 1-0 in the semis, led the UAE all the way to the final.
After a gruelling game that finished 0-0 after extra time in front of a 60,000-capacity crowd, ‘the Whites’ (Al Abyad) lost 4-2 on penalties to Saudi Arabia. The result
remains the UAE’s best finish in the contest.
The Asian Cup will return to the UAE in 2019, in what many view as a dress rehearsal for Expo 2020.
* Nick Leech