Football in the United Arab Emirates
Football is a widely practiced and popular sport in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Although not one of the leading footballing nations in Asia, the UAE has nonetheless produced some outstanding teams at both club and international level as well as some talented individual players.
The United Arab Emirates Football Association (UAEFA), the governing body for the sport in the UAE, was founded as recently as 1971, affiliating to FIFA in 1974. A "test" league was run by the newly formed body in 1973-74 season in order to determine a format for competitive football in the country. The competition was won by Al-Oroba, with the triumph recognised as official in 2001 by the UAEFA. The UAE Football League as it is known, includes the top flight UAE Pro-League with Al Ain S.C.C. the most successful club with eleven title wins. A UAE Division 1 Group A and UAE Division 1 Group B are competed for at lower levels.
UAE football has seen a number of overseas players imported in recent years. Amongst the leading names to compete in UAE football have been Paraguayan international Roberto Acuña, former Internazionale striker Mohamed Kallon and 2006 FIFA World Player of the Year Fabio Cannavaro. In 2011, David Trezeguet and Diego Maradona joined as player and coach respectively.
No fewer than six knockout cup competitions have been competed for in the UAE, although only three of these remain in existence. The Emir Cup, now called the UAE President's Cup began at the same time as the league and has been established as an annual contest since 1978-79. More recent additions to the calendar have been the Etisalat Emirates Cup and the UAE Super Cup, a one-off match between the league winners and the President's Cup winners. The major defunct competitions are the Federation Cup, an irregular competition, the UAE Vice Presidents Cup and the UAE FA Cup.
The United Arab Emirates national football team, nicknamed Al Abyad, made their first appearance in 1972 and since then have enjoyed both highs and lows.
AFC Asian Cup
Al Abyad first appeared at the AFC Asian Cup in 1980 when they were eliminated in the first round. Two more first round exits followed before the team finished fourth in 1992. The UAE's finest hour in the competition came in 1996 when, as hosts, they topped their group and then won games against Iraq and Kuwait to set up a final against Saudi Arabia national football team. The match ended in a 0-0 draw but UAE lost on penalties.
The team have qualified for three of the four subsequent tournaments but have not advanced beyond in the first round in any of those appearances.
The UAE have qualified for the FIFA World Cup only once, appearing at the 1990 tournament. They were placed into Group D alongside leading European teams West Germany and Yugoslavia as well as South Americans Colombia. The team lost all three matches, 2-0 to Colombia, 5-1 to West Germany and 4-1 to Yugoslavia.
UAE are also members of the Union of Arab Football Associations (UAFA) and take part in their competitions. This avenue of competition had provided the UAE with its only international trophy to date as they hosted and won the 2007 Gulf Cup of Nations.
The leading UAE club sides compete in the annual AFC Champions League. Al Ain became the sole UAE team to win the competition in the 2002-03 season, defeating Thailand's BEC Tero Sasana 2-1 on aggregate in a twolegged final. The club reached the final again in 2005 but lost to Saudi club Ittihad FC.
The GCC Champions League, a tournament for the leading Arab clubs from states on the Persian Gulf, has been won by UAE clubs on four occasions - Al Shabab Al Arabi Club in 1992, Al Ain in 2001, Al Jazira Club in 2007 and Al Wasl FC in 2010. As yet no UAE team has won the Arab Champions League, with Al-Arabi coming closest when they finished as runners-up to Al-Shabab Riyadh of Saudi Arabia in 2001.
In August 2008 the Abu Dhabi United Group purchased the English Premier League club Manchester City, installing Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan as owner and Khaldoon Al Mubarak as chairman. With the wealth of the ruling family of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi behind them the club became effectively the richest in the world.
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