x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Gulf Cup: Best may be yet to come for the UAE national team

After the UAE's Gulf Cup final success, Paul Oberjuerge considers what is next for Mahdi Ali's side.

UAE's Omar Abdulrahman (21) prepares to kick the ball to score a goal past Iraq's Salam Shaker (L) during their Gulf Cup Tournament final soccer match on Friday. UAE won in extra time, 2-1.
UAE's Omar Abdulrahman (21) prepares to kick the ball to score a goal past Iraq's Salam Shaker (L) during their Gulf Cup Tournament final soccer match on Friday. UAE won in extra time, 2-1.

And the best part? UAE football fans can expect more matches just like this one. Important matches. High-profile matches. At the 2015 Asian Cup. The 2017 Gulf Cup. And, inshallah, the 2018 World Cup.

The Emirates have a championship-quality football team now; that was proved last night in Bahrain when they beat a gritty Iraq side 2-1 in extra time in the final of the 2013 Gulf Cup.

It may be only the second international trophy in the history of the national team, but it also came on the first attempt at the senior level by that special group of young men the country has invested so much hope in.

The payoff came earlier than expected. The thinking was the 2013 Gulf Cup was more for learning than winning. Three, maybe four games to swap a bit of their youth for more experience.

They jumped past "pupils" and landed at "masters", however, winning five consecutive matches and when it was over last night, the balance of power in Arabian Gulf football had shifted towards Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah.

Of course, it helps to have Omar Abdulrahman. The little genius scored a goal that saw him slither past four opponents, find space for a shot and bang it off an Iraq defender and into the net. That one will be replayed on Abu Dhabi Sports until the end of time.

It was great fun, it was a football thrill ride, and the youth of this team, their cohesion, their leadership under Mahdi Ali, means more big matches are on the way. Starting on February 6, with an Asian Cup qualifier in Vietnam.

Mark your calendar.

These UAE footballers are must-see television.

sports@thenational.ae

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