The United Arab Emirates are a group of seven small states situated on the southeast tip of the Arabian Peninsula. Flanked to the north by the Arabian Gulf, the country borders Qatar to the west, Saudi Arabia to the south and Oman to the east, with Iran lying just across the Gulf.
The Federation of the United Arab Emirates was founded in 1971 following the union of six emirates: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, Umm al-Quwain, Fujairah and Sharjah, with Ras al-Khaimah joining a year later. Abu Dhabi is by far the largest of the seven, occupying more than 80 per cent of the country’s total surface area of 83,600 square kilometres.
The UAE is home to over nine million people, a figure that is growing all the time. The respective populations of Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, the two host cities of the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2017, are 2,784,000 and 650,000. The growth in the country’s oil industry has attracted a large number of expatriates, so many, in fact, that Emiratis account for only 11 per cent of the population, Iranians and other Arabs nine per cent, and south Asians 62 per cent. The vast majority of the country’s inhabitants are Muslim (96 per cent), and though Arabic is the official language, English, Hindi and Urdu are also very widely spoken.
Though most of the country is covered in desert, it is rich in oil reserves, which have been exploited since the 1960s, mainly in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. The climate is very stable throughout the year. Summers are hot, with temperatures ranging between 35 and 45 ºC and humidity between 60 and 100 per cent, while winters are warm (15 to 25 ºC) but dry.
Football in the UAE
Though the United Arab Emirates lacks the footballing tradition of many nations in Europe and the Americas, it is passionate about the game and very proud to be hosting the FIFA Club World Cup in 2017, the third occasion on which the country has done so, after 2009 and 2010. The UAE has hosted three other FIFA tournaments besides: the U-20 World Cup in 2003, the Beach Soccer World Cup in 2009, and the U-17 World Cup four years later. And though the traditions of horse and camel racing stretch back more than 2,000 years in the region, football is now the country’s most popular sport.
The United Arab Emirates was admitted to FIFA in 1972, just one year after gaining independence, and joined the Asian Football Confederation and the Union of Arab Football Associations two years later. As well as hosting the Gulf Cup of Nations in 1982, 1994 and 2007, the UAE also provided the venue for the 1996 AFC Asian Cup, staging each tournament with its customary efficiency. The country will host both competitions again in two years’ time.
Though the UAE national team has been in existence for less than half a century, it has achieved some notable results over the years, winning the Gulf Cup of Nations in front of its own fans in 2007 – beating Oman in the final – and lifting the trophy again in 2013, this time after defeating Iraq. Runners-up on three occasions in the Gulf Cup, the Emiratis also took second place in the 1996 Asian Cup and third in the 2015 continental finals. The UAE’s biggest achievement to date, however, was qualifying for the 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy™, their only world finals appearance to date.
As for the country’s national youth teams, the U-20 side has reached three world finals in its age group, advancing to the last 16 at Malaysia 1997 and the quarter-finals at UAE 2003 and Egypt 2009. The UAE’s U-17s have also graced the world stage three times, failing to progress beyond the group phase at Italy 1991 and UAE 2013, but reaching the Round of 16 at Nigeria 2009.