Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 9 August 2020

UAE great sporting moments No 15: UAE's Ismail Matar lights up 2007 Gulf Cup

Al Wahda forward's five goals, including winner against Oman in the final, earned him player of the tournament award

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Every day over three weeks, The National looks back at the 21 greatest moments in UAE sports history.

UAE football’s golden generation might have had five or six years of gestation still to go, but by 2007 the golden child had already arrived.

All those questions that Omar Abdulrahman has had to face? The ones about how great he could become? And whether he should go to Europe? And whether he missed his window for a big move?

They have all been rehashed from a decade earlier, when Ismail Matar took Middle East football by storm – and shot UAE to their first international title.

The Al Wahda forward had long had a heavy burden of expectation to bear.

At the Under 20 World Cup in 2003, which was played in UAE, he had become just the second player from Asia to win a Golden Ball as the best player of the tournament at a Fifa finals.

He took UAE to within an ace of the semi-finals of that competition, and was already a senior national team player.

The step up to senior international football was not without its chastening moments, though.

In 2005, he had seen precious little of the ball when UAE were humbled 8-0 by a Brazil side including the likes of Ronaldinho, Kaka and Cafu in a friendly at Zayed Sports City Stadium.

That match was memorable for a variety of things. The star-laden status of the opposition, and the gulf between the teams, for sure.

UAE forward Ismail Matar, wearing No 10, found the net in four of his team's five tournament games during the 2007 Gulf Cup. Getty Images
UAE forward Ismail Matar, wearing No 10, found the net in four of his team's five tournament games during the 2007 Gulf Cup. Getty Images

Plus the fact the post-game fireworks show actually went off before the full-time whistle blew – much to the delight of Ronaldinho.

And also for the fact the fixture was a long-way short of being a sell-out.

Maybe the fans just needed a little bit of context to coax them to the stadium. An exhibition match involving some of the sport's most gilded stars was great, but nothing like what was to follow two years later.

On January 30, 2007, the 45,000-seater stadium in Abu Dhabi was packed to the rafters as the host nation met Oman in the final of the Gulf Cup of Nations.

As had been the case for much of the tournament, all focus was on Matar.

He had scored four goals in as many matches in the competition so far, including the injury-time winner in the semi-final against Saudi Arabia three days earlier.

It felt as though all that stood between UAE and their maiden title was Ali Al Habsi.

The Omani goalkeeper was by now on the books of Bolton Wanderers, and would soon become the first player from the Gulf to play in the English Premier League.

He had been scintillating in the tournament to date, most notably when the Omanis beat UAE 2-1 in their group meeting, with Matar providing the consolation goal for the hosts.

It was going to take something special to deny him – and Matar duly provided it.

After 73 minutes of a gripping final, he latched onto a long through ball and drilled a first-time shot in off Al Habsi’s right-hand post.

It was the only goal of the game, and Matar’s fifth of a tournament which he ended with another player of the tournament gong.

And, more importantly for the UAE, a winner’s medal.

Bruno Metsu, who had helped Senegal to the Fifa World Cup quarter-finals in 2002, had success with the UAE, leading them to the Gulf Cup title five years later. Reuters
Bruno Metsu, who had helped Senegal to the Fifa World Cup quarter-finals in 2002, had success with the UAE, leading them to the Gulf Cup title five years later. Reuters

Updated: July 6, 2020 07:11 AM

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