After winning the
18th GCC Cup, the country needs to now invest and
focus on a youth programme to further reap
The rapture of celebrations
that kicked off after the 72nd minute strike from
UAE star Ismail Mattar at the Zayed Sports City
can be heard long after that memorable evening in
Abu Dhabi at the end of the 18th Gulf Cup. That
strike is bound to alter the very face of football
in the country as it strives to ride the euphoria
of a nation trying to rediscover itself as one of
the top in the region.
This was the first time that the UAE had managed
to write its name, and the country had to wait for
well over three decades after coming close to
winning on a couple of occasions.
The Gulf Cup, which has been held regularly since
1970, brings together the national teams of the
GCC, namely Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi
Arabia and the UAE, along with neighbours Iraq and
Yemen. The competition, modelled on the well-known
FIFA World Cup format, features two groups of four
teams, with the two leading teams in each group
proceeding to the knock-out stages.
The UAE’s previous finest footballing moment had
come way back in 1990 when they qualified for the
FIFA World Cup in Italy. But last month’s win
could not have come at better time, more so when
one considers that the UAE may have well turned a
vital corner after spending more than one and a
half decade at the crossroads of wilderness and a
general lack of self-belief.
But it is not only people like Ismail Mattar who
have erased the doubts. Equally responsible for
this turn towards glory are the band of officials
heading the UAE Football Association along with
the coaching staff led by Frenchman Bruno Metsu
and the rest of players for the high doses of
professionalism, commitment and sacrifice they
have brought along with them. If at all, there was
a complete team on the field, one could look no
further than the UAE.
The UAE rightly deserved what it sought. But
it is no time to sit back and relax on the
laurels. Rather it is high time to try and take
the game to the next level. The success has been
there and the taste of success is sweet indeed.
And one way of ensuring that this success lives on
for the country and its people is to have a solid
development programme and proper planning towards
a unified coaching strategy for the young,
Of course, the country must celebrate, and they
have done so in a very generous manner. There have
been ticker-tape celebrations everywhere the team
has gone, and the country has come together as one
to take part in this one singular joy of having
won the cup of regional dominance.
It is also time for the other sports and sporting
disciplines to eat off this success. The UAE team
surprisingly nudged out strong contenders Qatar
and gave way for double celebrations. The
sportspeople of the UAE have suddenly come into
the belief segment and there can be no stopping or
altering this commitment.
It is amazing to see the ripple effect of success
in all aspects of UAE sport. Suddenly there is a
self-belief in UAE sportspersons that had been
hitherto missing. At the end of the Asian Games in
Doha at the end of last year, the UAE returned
with a haul of 10 medals – something that had
never happened in the history of sport in UAE. The
ball had been set rolling in 2004 after Shaikh
Ahmad Hasher Mohammad Al Maktoum won the country’s
first-ever Olympic gold medal.
Perhaps, what has taken UAE sports a step further
is the recent introduction of professionalism.
Suddenly there is scope for improvement and
sportspeople in the country have started believing
in their ability to contest against the best on
the international stage.
Doha last year was an additional spark to the
flame. Ten medals were adequate proof that the
recent introduction of professionalism in sport
has paid rich dividends. The Gulf Cup success has
further endorsed this fact. A sportsman's life is
not always an enviable one. Failure is too close
and few would tread down this path. So let us
nurture this success, for in this the seeds of a
rich legacy may have been sown.
Ismail Mattar is by far a charmer on the
field. His five goals earned him the Most Valuable
Player of the tournament during the 18th Gulf Cup.
This is not the first time that the sturdy player
from Al Wahda has earned such an award. He was
also adjudged the best player of the tournament at
the end of the 2003 FIFA World Youth Cup hosted by
Ismail Mattar was born into a sports family. All
his brothers played for Al Wahda in Abu Dhabi.
Khamis, Khalil and Adel played for the UAE
national team in the early 1990s. All of them are
now retired. His younger brother Yasir, though, is
playing for the Al Wahda Youth Under-19 team.
The GCC Cup was not the sole stage for Ismail
Mattar to excel. He also scored the solitary goal
against Australia during the 2003 FIFA World Youth
Cup to take the UAE into a historic quarterfinals
during that competition.
Felicitations and rewards
President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin
Zayed Al Nahyan was the first to acknowledge the
contribution of the team to the betterment of the
sport in the country for future generations. The
President instructed that each of the player be
given Dh500,000 for winning the Gulf Cup. The
reward is besides the special bonuses announced
earlier following a streak of wins the UAE
registered against Kuwait and Saudi Arabia during
the knockout stages. In his generosity, Shaikh
Khalifa did not forget the technical and
administrative staff of the team, members of the
UAE Football Association and the Organising
Committee as he decreed that they too be given
His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum,
Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and
Ruler of Dubai was among the first to honour the
country’s sportsmen with a villa for every player.
Shaikh Mohammad also received the players and
managers of the team and congratulated them on
their impressive victory. “You have made all of us
proud and did exactly what we told you, that you
must be like lions on the field,” he said.
Shaikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Ras Al Khaimah
Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler, was among the
others as he awarded Dh4 million to the UAE
national football team as a gesture of
appreciation. He received the members of the
football team in his palace in Al Dhaid.
Al Habtoor grants Dh3 million
Khalaf Al Habtoor of the Al Habtoor Group was
spontaneous in his award of Dh3 million to the
players of the triumphant team. Al Habtoor invited
the players to his residence and handed over the
amount to each of them personally.
The UAE Football Association has charted out a
course for the national team as they ride on their
Gulf Cup success and start preparations for this
summer’s Asian Cup Finals to be hosted by Vietnam.
The final stage of preparations will consist of an
external training camp in Malaysia from June 13 to
July 6 under the watchful eyes of their French
coach Bruno Metsu. The UAE is scheduled to play
four friendly matches in Malaysia during the
course of their camp, and all warm-up games are
against nations who will be playing in the Asian
Cup Finals to be held from July 7 to 29.
The UAE will face China, Indonesia, Iran and Saudi
Arabia in the warm-up matches in Malaysia.
17th Gulf Cup 2004:
Semifinals: Oman beat Bahrain 3-2; Qatar beat
Final: Qatar beat Oman 5-4 on penalties after
being tied 1-1 in regulation period.
18th Gulf Cup 2007:
Semifinals: Oman beat Bahrain 1-0; UAE beat
Saudi Arabia 1-0.
Final: UAE beat Oman 1-0.