x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Italia '90 World Cup stars having a reunion in the UAE

Paul Oberjuerge: The UAE national side travelled to Italy for the 1990 World Cup, which in retrospect is only fitting, given that many of them eventually came to work in the Emirates.

The UAE national side travelled to Italy for the 1990 World Cup, which in retrospect is only fitting, given that seemingly half of the prominent personalities from Italia '90 eventually came to work in the Emirates.

The names range from Diego Maradona to Walter Zenga and Josef Hickersberger. From Srecko Katanec to Ivan Hasek and David O'Leary.

From Gabriel Calderon to Quique Sanchez Flores and (for one night only) Carlo Ancelloti, who was in Dubai this week, leading Paris Saint-Germain.

The news in the UAE, 22 years ago, was the team led by Adnan Al Talyani, Abdulrahman Mohammed and Fahad Khamees playing global heavyweights Germany, Yugoslavia and Colombia in football's biggest tournament.

Khalid Ismail scored against Germany at the San Siro and Ali Thani put one home against Yugoslavia. Those goals, often replayed on television, have been seen by every domestic fan.

It is no surprise that most of the Emirati players remain prominent in the UAE or some, such as Yousuf Hussain and Abdulqadir Hassan, work for the Football Association.

What seems extraordinary, however, is how many prominent figures at the 1990 World Cup now work here. Or have.

Maradona and Zenga, the coaches of Al Wasl and Al Nasr, respectively, faced off in the semi-final in Naples, a taut affair that was decided by the Argentine's successful shoot-out strike past Zenga, the host country's goalkeeper.

That Maradona, who played in Italy, for Napoli, should knock out the home side was duly and painfully noted.

Among the celebrants that night would have been the Baniyas coach, Gabriel Calderon, who played the first 45 minutes, and among the despondent losers was Ancelloti, an Italy reserve.

Argentina, weakened by several key suspensions, lost the final to West Germany 1-0.

It did not keep El Diego from being on the all-tournament team.

Hickersberger and Zenga were also on the same pitch in the opening match of the tournament, in Rome.

If Zenga had not kept a clean sheet in Italy's one-goal victory (and Hickersberger recalls Andreas Herzog squandering a fine chance), his Austria side might have moved into the knockout stages.

Both the Al Wahda coach and Zenga are now 4,300km from Rome, but only a few feet apart when Wahda play Nasr.

O'Leary, the Irishman who would be serving the second year of a three-year deal as Al Ahli's manager had he not been dismissed, was a key figure in Italy, too; he scored the last shoot-out goal in Ireland's victory over Romania in the last 16. (Yes, Ireland made the World Cup quarter-finals.)

Hasek, twice the Ahli coach, was Czechoslovakia's captain, and his side's 1-0 victory over Hickerberger's Austria spurred them to the final eight.

Sanchez Flores and Katenec were two gentlemen in Verona in the last 16. Ahli's current coach watched from the bench while Katanec had something of a starring role for the Yugoslavs, although his tenure as UAE national coach ended with bad reviews, in September.

Mohmoud El Gohary, perhaps the greatest of Egyptian coaches, took his team to Italy, too, still the only appearance in a World Cup for a football-mad nation. El Gohary would, five years later, coach at Wahda.

Hickersberger was surprised at the list of names who mixed in Italy with him in 1990.

"They were players; I was already a coach. And now we are all here," he said. "That was a great World Cup, one of the best, because Italy is a great football country.

"Our match at the Stadio Olimpico, the first match of the tournament, was special.

"I remember well. And the UAE was there, too. Football really is a very small world."

poberjuerge@thenational.ae