Time Frame: The golden summer for UAE football at Italia ‘90

Our football team may have lost 1-0 to Australia in the humid cauldron of the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium last week, but a shock victory against Japan a few days earlier means the dream of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia is far from over.

The hundreds of thousands of fans who cheered on the team in Abu Dhabi will no doubt be hoping to make a similar journey to those seen in this photo.

The year was 1990. And the UAE was playing Colombia at the World Cup in Italy – the first and, to date, only time we have qualified for the event. (I was 9 and watching back home in Ireland, never imagining I would one day work here.) While the Emiratis went down 2-0, we can see the UAE flags flying, supporters in national dress and one holding a portrait of the late president, Sheikh Zayed.

The team also lost to West Germany (the eventual winners of the tournament) and Yugoslavia. But our presence at Italia ’90 gave confidence and pride to a young country just emerging onto the world stage.

A documentary of this remarkable journey is reportedly in the works and here’s hoping the current crop can emulate these football pioneers.

* John Dennehy

Published: September 20, 2016 04:00 AM