x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Fans overjoyed as UAE wins 2-1 against Iraq in Gulf Cup final

Football supporters across the country loudly roared their approval as the national squad secured victory against Iraq in the final minutes

An Emirati fan cheers prior to the start of the 21st Gulf Cup final football match between United Arab Emirates and Iraq in Manama, on January 18, 2013.
An Emirati fan cheers prior to the start of the 21st Gulf Cup final football match between United Arab Emirates and Iraq in Manama, on January 18, 2013.

Football fever gripped the UAE last night as the national team's supporters cheered the squad to glory during the dramatic Gulf Cup clash with Iraq.

Jubilant Emiratis, who were glued to TV screens across the capital, leapt to their feet and roared their approval when the final whistle blew with the UAE winning 2-1.

The victory followed a nail-biting contest, which Ali Al Muharrami watched alongside many compatriots at Abu Dhabi's Il Caffe Di Roma.

"It was very exciting, I don't believe it. I was very happy when the whistle blew," the 33-year-old customer care officer said, as a driver outside roared his engine in celebration.

Abdulaziz Al Hammadi said the match had been "the hardest game of the championships" and that "this is a proud day for all emirates".

Blaring car horns were heard across the country as Emiratis celebrated their country's victory.

Fans began arriving at Abu Dhabi's Il Caffe Di Roma a few hours ahead of kick off in Bahrain, eager to secure a good place to watch the action.

UAE flags were proudly pinned on the windows and dotted around the inside of the two-tier venue, adding to an already patriotic atmosphere.

The eager supporters sat chatting with their friends, relaxing and sipping coffee. But at 8pm everything changed - the conversation died down and all eyes turned towards the screens dotted around the Khalidiyah premises.

The initial hush was short-lived and large cheers erupted when a couple of chances at goal were narrowly missed early on in the game.

When the UAE scored, the place erupted and men leapt to their feet.

Among the supporters was Hamdan Al Qasemi, 23, from Abu Dhabi.

"I have been supporting the UAE since I was four or five years old," the student said. "I'm from the UAE so I have to support my country's team. I have been very excited about this match. I believe in this team. They have got good players, plus their ages are young. It gives them motivation, being young.

"They want to achieve their goals. All of us are supporting the same team. It's really nice to enjoy and support the team with others."

The cafe was filled with his fellow Emiratis, as well as a handful of expatriates cheering on their adopted home's squad. Ahmed Al Marri said the future for the UAE team looked promising. "We have a better generation and we are getting better every year," he said. "The main sport in the UAE is football."

Emirati student Sultan Al Falahi, 21, added: "I'm proud of the team, whether they win or lose. Every time they give us a good match."

One diner who was not focusing on the screen with as much enthusiasm as the others was Mohamed Al Mazrouei, 23, a customs officer.

"I wanted to come to the cafe to eat and to hang out with my friends," he said. "I'm not a football fan. [But] I'm happy to watch because it is my country. It's a big challenge between the Middle East."

However, his cousin, Fahad Al Mazrouei, is a big fan of the game.

"I love the UAE. I wanted to go to Bahrain but I didn't get an air ticket because there were too many people. I wanted to be there," said the 22-year-old, also a customs officer.

Francis Zarate, A Filipino who works at the cafe, said it was always full when football was on.

"There is extra excitement tonight," he said. "The captain of the UAE team, Ismail Matar, is a regular at the cafe. He comes often."

In Dubai, fans of all ages gathered around the TV screens to watch the UAE make history at a coffee shop in Mirdif. Expectations were high before the match started but for every minute that passed, they grew even higher. Everyone jumped to their feet each time the national team had the slightest chance of scoring.

When the UAE scored its first goal, young Emirati men hugged each other and there were screams of joy.

Saed Al Ahbabi, 30, a manager, said victory was everything. "We will make this place go on fire during the game and we will win."

Clapping and cheering was heard constantly, replicating the atmosphere at the stadium.

Mohammed Al Ansari, 21, a policeman and university student, said: "I wish I could have flown to Bahrain but unfortunately I have exams, so I could not go. But I am having a similar feeling here. It is such a pleasure to watch such a good play."

But not everyone in the coffee shop was supporting the UAE, with dozens of people carrying Iraqi flags.

Ahmad Najeb, 19, a student, said: "I like to support good football and I believe that Iraq has good players."

ecleland@thenational.ae

wissa@thenational.ae