x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Gulf Cup: Victory for UAE over Qatar raises public's expectations

Fans say it is a matter of time before their football team become a great side.

UAE supporters cheer the team on during their opener against Qatar in Isa Town on Saturday. Fadi Al-Assaad / Reuters
UAE supporters cheer the team on during their opener against Qatar in Isa Town on Saturday. Fadi Al-Assaad / Reuters

From packed shisha cafes to private homes, Emiratis were glued to televisions showing the UAE's 3-1 victory over Qatar in their opening game in the Gulf Cup, late on Saturday, and the young men of the current senior side seem to be winning the hearts of young and old, men and women.

"It was a great match, and a great opening game as a start for the championship," said Amal Al Barout, a 26-year-old Emirati and Etihad Airways executive.

"The players were highly qualified and proved that they are ready for the competition, as well as the team coach," she added, referring to Mahdi Ali.

UAE residents have been waiting for the young men who formed successful age-group teams to make their presence felt in the national side. The UAE team on Saturday featured 11 players 25 years of age or younger.

"The technique in the field was amazing, and the teamwork and spirit I never saw before," said Al Barout. "From their achievements during the past four years, they proved to us that they are the best UAE team in history, with all the youngsters' high spirit and great talent in the field.

"We can't judge if this team will achieve greatness, but why not? The team has all encouragement from the Football Association in the UAE and from all the UAE fans. … It's just a matter of time and they will succeed."

At the Layali Cafe in Al Ain, expatriates as well as Emiratis crowded in front of the television and cheered and clapped whenever Omar Abdulrahman, the gifted midfielder, touched the ball.

"I have never watched the UAE play before, to be honest, but I watched them at the London Olympics and I read that most of those same players are playing and I came with my friends here to watch it," said Mohammed Jafar, a 24-year-old businessman from India.

"I couldn't figure out if this was an English Premier League game or a Gulf Cup game, it was such high tempo. And I loved the goals Omar and Ali Mabkhout scored; they were world class."

Sarah Sagar, a 54-year-old Emirati, said: "I love football because my kids love it.

"My sons were in the Al Ain FC youth academy a long time ago but they did not make it as professionals, but that's why I have always been following the UAE team games.

"I can tell you that this team will win the Gulf Cup and, inshallah, if they work hard they can also win the Asian Cup [in 2015]," she said.

The game ended after midnight here, but that did not keep young fans like 12-year-old Hamood from following the action.

"I loved 'Amoory' [Omar Abdulrahman] and his free kick goal was amazing and he also did a trick of Neymar which was amazing," he said. "I saw that trick on YouTube."

The audience and excitement are expected to increase when the UAE play Bahrain tomorrow.

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