The United Arab Emirates Football Association was founded in 1971 but it was not until the 1986 FIFA World Cup™ in Mexico that the national side embarked on its debut qualifying campaign. It was an auspicious start, with an impressive UAE side going through to the second round before surrendering their berth in the final stage on goal difference to an Iraq side that went to qualify for the finals. The team was determined not to let such an opportunity evade them again and after a long and hard-fought qualification campaign they stunned the world by qualifying for the finals of the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy.
FIFA World Cup finals history
The 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy remains the United Arab Emirates sole experience on the global stage. Their opponents in Group D were all strong sides: West Germany, Yugoslavia and Columbia. In their first match against Columbia they lost 2-0, while the second game, against eventual champions Germany and played at Milan’s San Siro stadium, saw them concede five, though midfielder Khalid Ismail netted the UAE’s first goal of the tournament in reply. Their final contest against Yugoslavia resulted in another defeat, this time by four goals to one, with striker Ali Thani Jumaa doubling the Gulf side's overall tally.
The current crop
It took a number of years before the UAE team was able to recapture the form of its 1990 heyday. The turnaround started at the 2003 FIFA U-20 World Cup in the UAE where the hosts reached the quarter-finals, before going on to win the Gulf Cup of Nations in 2007. Youth football remained strong throughout this period, with the UAE winning the 1998 AFC U-19 Championship and performing superbly at the 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Egypt, where they went out at the quarter-final stage. At senior level, however, a convincing achievement has yet to come. Aiming to book their second FIFA World Cup appearance, UAE got off to a good start in Asia’s qualifying for Brazil 2014, outdoing India 5-2 on aggregate to progress to the third stage.
The key players
The United Arab Emirates have considerable strength in depth with a generation of impressive young players making their mark in recent years. Alongside established stars like Subait Khater, Ismail Matar, Ali Al Wehaibi and Faisal Khalil are new names such as Ahmed Khalil, named Best Player at the AFC U-19 Championship, and his team-mates Hamdan Al Kamali and Dhiyab Awana. If these young players can raise their game even further the future looks bright for the national side.
Coach: Abdulla Mesfer
Best performances in a FIFA competition: FIFA World Cup Italy 1990 (Group stages), FIFA U-20 World Cup UAE 2003, Egypt 2009 (Quarter-finals)
Former stars: Adnan Al Talyani, Ali Thani Jumaa, Khalid Ismail