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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 February 2019

UAE v Australia: nations with shared values divided for one night

Asian Cup holders Australia face the host nation on Friday night in Al Ain

Australia defender Aziz Behich, left, is one of many Socceroo players from an immigrant community. Hassan Ammar / AP Photo
Australia defender Aziz Behich, left, is one of many Socceroo players from an immigrant community. Hassan Ammar / AP Photo

Two nations united by a common goal will be divided for one night as hosts UAE tackle defending champions Australia in a crunch Asian Cup clash on Friday.

Both countries have embraced multiculturalism over the years, welcoming large numbers of expatriates who leave their homelands in search of brighter job prospects, a change of scene - and a bit of extra sunshine, too.

It is an ethos that is reflected in the Australian team, made up of players from a wide variety of backgrounds.

The Socceroos squad includes players of Croatian, Afghani, Greek, German, Lebanese and Turkish descent among its ranks.

One Aussie player Awer Mabil, is of South Sudanese descent and born in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp.

All will be wearing the Australian green and gold colours in the quarter-final battle on Friday night.

More than 25 per cent of Australians were born overseas, while the UAE's expatriate population exceeding 80 per cent.

We associate ourselves as a nation with tolerance and multiculturalism, as does the UAE.

Arthur Spyrou, Australian Ambassador to the UAE

Australian Ambassador to the UAE, Arthur Spyrou, said the Australian football team is a shining example of how people from all over the world can come together and unite proudly under one flag.

“There are some great stories in the Australian team,” said Mr Spyrou, who is himself of Greek origin.

“We associate ourselves as a nation with tolerance and multiculturalism, as does the UAE.

“If you look at the names in our team, that is clear to see.

“Tim Cahill is one of our most famous recent players, and he is of English decent with a Samoan mum. Others have Croatian or Serbian heritage and Robbie Kruse is from a German family.

“Others have Afghan and Nicaraguan heritage and one of the more interesting stories is of Milos Degenek, who was a refugee in Kosovo before heading to Australia.

“There are lots of stories that reflect tolerance right through the team."

The welcoming attitude provides a link between the UAE and Australia, with the countries increasingly coming together on the football pitch, too.

The Australians twice came out on top in qualification games for last year's World Cup in Russia.

But despite more than 20,000 Australians living in the UAE, it is expected to be a sea of white at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain, with a partisan local crowd getting behind the host nation.

Mr Spyrou is relieved the team's fortunes have improved since the shock loss to Jordan in their opening match.

“I told my kids I would offer to play off the bench if things didn’t improve, but thankfully the team is looking in better shape now.

“My youngest son wants to be a goalkeeper, so he’s loving the tournament as are my two other boys.

“I used to play a bit, and referee, but I’m definitely better off in the stands.

“Aussie Rules footie may be the national sport, but soccer is getting more popular and there is a lot of interest in how the guys are getting on in the UAE.

“The UAE is riding a bit of wave at the moment, so it will be a tough game.”

Should the Socceroos brush past The Whites again on Friday night, it promises to be a bumper weekend of national celebration, with Australia Day marked on Saturday.

Hotels across the country are holding special Australia Day events over the weekend.

“A lot of Australians were at the Palestine and Syria games, so I’m sure there will be a few Aussies trying to get tickets for the UAE game in Al Ain,” said Mr Spyrou.

“I reckon it will be 2-1 to the Socceroos, and I’m hoping we can go on to win it.

“In the final four, anything can happen.”

Updated: January 25, 2019 05:08 PM

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