x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Emirati fans have no clear winner on support for Brazil’s World Cup 2014

No country is a clear favourite in the UAE, says Omar Al Raisi, and that star players mostly help make the decision for Emiratis.

An Emirati fan of Brazil watches the games on a giant screen during the previous World Cup in South Africa in 2010. Jeff Topping / The National
An Emirati fan of Brazil watches the games on a giant screen during the previous World Cup in South Africa in 2010. Jeff Topping / The National

Emirati football fans are getting ready to wave flags when the World Cup in Brazil kicks off on Thursday.

But with the UAE not in the tournament, Emiratis are more likely to be displaying flags of their favourite team not coached by Mahdi Ali. And those are likely to be the flags of Spain, Argentina, Brazil, Italy and Portugal.

In most cases, the at-a-remove enthusiasm for a foreign team is related to the location of their favourite European team or favourite player, such as Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi.

“I will be supporting Portugal this year, just like I did at the 2010 World Cup,” said Khalid Ahmed Al Baloushi, who lives in Al Ain. “I am a big Cristiano Ronaldo fan and a Madrid fan and we have three Real players in the Portuguese team.

“I think its great for us to show our support towards a team at the World Cup, just as we show towards our favourite club.

“Ronaldo won the Ballon d’Or, the Champions League and I really hope he will add the World Cup to his collection.”

As one of the most diverse countries in the world, fans no doubt can be found in the UAE for all 32 nations competing in the World Cup finals. Emiratis are enthusiasts of the first order, and so are many expatriates in the country.

Among Emiratis, the World Cup will be on the television in nearly every home, and fans almost always choose a team to join the whole World Cup party.

The most interesting topic of conversation at this time every four years, among Emirati football fans, is which team they will be supporting at the World Cup, and why. That is, aside from the 1990 World Cup, for which the UAE qualified for the first and only time.

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“I supported Argentina since I laid my eyes on the first and most important football moment I will ever witness; Maradona lifting the World Cup Trophy in 1986,” said Mohammed Harb of Dubai.

“I have been waiting for 28 years, and counting, for Argentina to win the cup again. Supporting Argentina is a matter of life and death, by my standards. Sometimes, think I am more Argentine than Maradona himself.”

It is interesting how everyone in the UAE, and around the world, for that matter, becomes a football expert once the World Cup begins. The level of banter and football expertise goes up a notch, too.

It is rare to find an Emirati fan, or someone from the other Arab countries, who really has a connection to a particular team.

The passion for supporting a team usually relates to players from present or past. One thinks the players are the pathway to someone supporting a team at the World Cup. Even before the games begin, and certainly during the 31-day tournament, everyone is watching, everyone has an opinion and everyone has to support a team.

Some support another country because their favourite players play in that team. Some support one because they like the country, or their style of play.

Historically, favourite sides, among the neutral fans, include Brazil, Argentina and Spain.

Others suggest fans should not support a country other than their own. “I don’t usually support a specific national team as I do to a football club,” said Mohammed Al Hosani, who lives in Abu Dhabi.

“I will be supporting France this year. Each World Cup, I support a different team based on their performances during the time of the last World Cup to the next.

“I don’t have any feelings for the team, I don’t go through highs and lows, which I feel for my favourite football club. I only have such strong feelings when it is my country, UAE.”

Is supporting a neutral country glory-hunting or pure football passion – or the common occurrence of sports fans deciding on a preference no matter who is involved?

My own preference? I am probably the biggest Cristiano Ronaldo fan in Al Ain, so I have been supporting Portugal since Euro 2004. I probably would not support Portugal if Ronaldo did not exist. It is all “CR7” for me.

Some carry the passion from the past to the present and future. Just like Maradona made millions support Argentina in 1986, and I might still have a soft spot for Portugal in the future, that passion would grow stronger if Portugal wins the World Cup.

We will not be able to watch our local heroes, not before 2018, so most of us will be watching and supporting, at full force, our adopted countries.


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