After a memorable FIFA World Cup™ journey with Senegal in 2002, perhaps Bruno Metsu's toughest job of all came when he took over the UAE national team in 2006 to lead the team through to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa.
Shortly after his appointment, Metsu added another feather to his cap at the start of 2007 by guiding the UAE to the Gulf Cup title for the first time in history. But just as everything seemed to be going to plan, the team suffered an early exit at the AFC Asian Cup 2007, when they crashed out with two opening defeats, including a forgettable 2-0 reverse against co-hosts Vietnam.
UAE's football reached its zenith in 1990, when they booked their passage to that year's FIFA World Cup and went on to extend the success to the continental championship as they finished runners-up in the 1996 Asian Cup, which they hosted. But they have been nowhere near as dominant since, either in the region's FIFA World Cup qualifying competition or the continental campaign.
In the Asian Zone's final qualifying round for Korea/Japan 2002, UAE lost out to a rampant China before losing against Iran to miss out on a play-off tie against the Republic of Ireland. They even failed to make it to the final qualifying stage four years later when they underestimated their group, allowing Korea DPR to advance at their expense.
However, despite recent FIFA World Cup disappointments, UAE have hopes for their team with a group of young talents having come of age. Among them, FIFA Under-20 World Cup 2003 Golden Ball winner Ismail Matar has developed into a talisman for the team, having scored five times in UAE's triumphant Gulf Cup campaign.
The UAE made a solid start in the qualifying campaign for South Africa 2010, and stood atop Asian Group 5 after a home win over Kuwait and draws away against Iran and Syria. A 1-0 defeat by Iran put their campaign in jeopardy, but they rallied to overcome Kuwait in the penultimate round to claw their way back. In the all-important closing match against Syria, Matar scored in their 3-1 defeat to send them narrowly through on goal difference at their rivals' expense.
After a poor start to the final qualifying round, in which UAE lost at home to Korea DPR and Saudi Arabia, Bruno Metsu was sacked as national coach. Metsu's post has been filled on a caretaker basis by his compatriot, former Saint Etienne and France star Dominique Rocheteau.
The managerial switch, however, didn't bear the expected fruits as UAE suffered a 4-1 away defeat at the hands of Korea Republic in the new boss's first game in charge. They may have held Iran to a 1-1 draw at home in the next game but the result did little to revive their qualifying fortunes. After losing to Korea DPR 2-0 for their fourth defeat, they were left needing to win the next game against Saudi Arabia to keep their faint hopes alive. Although they put in one of the finest performances in their entire qualifying campaign, with Mohamed Saeed and Matar on target, they eventually lost 3-2 to become the first eliminated Asian team.