ABU DHABI- Two members of the UAE national football team that made history by qualifying for the 1990 World Cup have had an emotional reunion with the coach who led their side to glory.
Ali Thani and Abdulrahman Al-Haddad were flown out to Brazil to meet former UAE coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, now technical director of the Brazilian national side, as part of a documentary being made by Image Nation chronicling the UAE’s historic qualification for the World Cup finals in Italy 24 years ago.
“The trip to Brazil was beyond imagination, I cannot describe the feelings I had,” said Thani, a former Sharjah player.
“The reunion with Parreira was very emotional, it was like a father and child reunion. When he saw us the first time it was during a press conference for the Brazil team; he paused the press conference to welcome and introduce us!”
The two men visited the Brazil training camp as the team prepared for its next World Cup match, met the players and their families, and watched a match at the famous Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
“Twenty-four years ago I was coached by the same manager who looks after these players, many of them were not born at that time!” said Thani, who famously scored a headed goal against Yugoslavia during the 1990 tournament. “They did not believe I still have the shirt I used to wear during Italia ‘90 until I showed it to them and asked Parreira to sign it!”
Thani and Al-Haddad’s reunion with the former UAE coach will form part of the Image Nation film, led by acclaimed creative producer Stevan Riley (Fire in Babylon), which will combine archive footage, interviews and new on-location shots.
Describing his reunion with Parreira as “wonderful”, Al-Haddad said: “I considered making a similar trip a long time ago but circumstances did not allow me at the time. One day I received a call from Image Nation and they told me about the brilliant documentary and surprised me with this trip to Brazil to reunite with Pereira.”
The Emirati team sealed qualification for the 1990 World Cup by winning an incredibly tense Asia qualifying competition in Singapore that was held in October 1989. They battled hard for their place, having been given little hope against strong teams such as China, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, South Korea and North Korea.
Since dubbed the “golden generation”, their success is widely regarded as the UAE’s proudest sporting achievement.
“At the time, we were a group of amateur players, making many sacrifices to play and represent our country,” Thani recalled. “Many had left their families, others left their jobs, just to be able to play in the World Cup qualifications. Nobody expected us to beat all the odds and qualify.
“I still remember the match we played in the qualifications phase against China. Everybody was excited, determined to prove ourselves fit to play at the World Cup.”
“I would like to thank Image Nation for all the efforts they are placing in order to document this great achievement, which is the greatest for the UAE football.”
Al-Haddad added: “Playing in the world cup is a great accomplishment that all countries dream to realize, achieving it requires a lot of hard work.”
As well as the UAE side, Parreira has led four other national teams to World Cup qualification: Kuwait in 1982, his native Brazil in 1994 and 2006, Saudi Arabia in 1998 and South Africa in 2010.
Image Nation is asking the public to become involved in the World Cup film by telling their own stories and sharing their memories, which will become an important part of the documentary-making process.