In late 2010, as in January of 2013, the UAE senior football team did not suffer a defeat while winning their Gulf Cup group and advancing to the semi-finals. Yet the former team was largely overlooked and the current team is a sensation.
When we consider context, however, it becomes understandable.
The 2010 Gulf Cup was held in Yemen, and the threat of unrest chilled the whole of the tournament. Not many fans visited from outside the country.
The UAE side in Yemen were at less-than-full strength. They lacked the whole of the Under 23 side, who won a silver medal at the Asian Games five days after the Gulf Cup kicked off. It also lacked Al Wahda's players because they were being rested ahead of the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi.
What was left were 23 plucky but unfancied players serving a coach of marginal appeal, the Slovene Srecko Katanec.
Also, the 2010 team did not play attractive football. Scoreless draws with Iraq and Oman preceded a 3-1 victory over Bahrain, the result that led to the semi-finals and a 1-0 loss to Saudi Arabia.
Contrast that with the current team. The Emiratis are at full strength, with the U23s of three years ago making up the bulk of the side. They are playing attractive football, scoring at least two goals in three victories, and are led by the popular Mahdi Ali.
Also, the 2011 Asian Cup followed the 2010 Gulf Cup by a matter of a few weeks. This year, no other major competitions are on the horizon. The 2013 side have the full attention of a nation, deservedly so.
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