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Olympic Soccer 2012: Why the UAE Is Threatening to Be a Huge Shock

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JULY 26:  The UAE team line up during the Men's Football first round Group A Match of the London 2012 Olympic Games between UAE and Uruguay, at Old Trafford on July 26, 2012 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images
Hayden BirdCorrespondent INovember 29, 2016

Interestingly, the Olympic soccer squads of Team GB and the United Arab Emirates have a major similarity. And even more interesting is that, though it’s a similarity, it causes two very different conclusions about the quality of each team.

This is a reference to the fact that both teams field rosters composed entirely of domestically located players.

All of Great Britain’s team plays in England or Wales.

And all of the United Arab Emirates’ team plays in the UAE.

Yet, based on that knowledge, the average fan would probably conclude that this implies a strength for Great Britain and a weakness for the UAE.

And, technically, they would probably be right.

Having said that, the UAE are poised to strike in this Olympics, and if Great Britain doesn’t play better than they did against Senegal, the men from the Middle East could find themselves as shock winners by later today.

 

UAE at a Glance

Soccer in the United Arab Emirates has never been glamorous, despite the incessant attempts by the country’s wealthy benefactors to make it so.

International coaches like Don Revie, Carlos Alberto Parreira, Mario Zagallo, Valery Lobanovsky, Carlos Queiroz and even Roy Hodgson have all come and go.

In their wake, modest achievements have been made. A brief appearance at Italy ’90 (where all three games were lost), coupled with a runner-up spot at the 1996 Asian Cup, was all the country had in the way of success to look back on.

The 21st century, however, has shown a marked improvement. Wins in the 2005 Kirin Cup and the 2007 Gulf Cup of Nations have vindicated a youth development that is beginning to yield results.

 

2010 Asian Games and Beyond

The UAE team that went to the 2010 Asian Games (held in China) did remarkably well.

After breezing through the group stages at the top of Group E, they beat Kuwait 2-0 in a score that flattered the Kuwaitis.

In the quarter and semifinals, they beat North and South Korea, respectively, before bowing out to Japan in the final, 1-0.

So a country of barely eight million managed to hold its own and, in fact, defeat two out of the three 2010 World Cup entrants that were in the tournament.

As anyone who was watching their first Olympic game against Uruguay noted, their style and passing ability were much better than most (who probably had never seen them play) would have guessed.

 

Rising Star

Omar Abdulrahman is of particular note. It was his incredible through-ball which set up UAE’s goal against Uruguay, and the 19-year-old playmaker is one to watch for the rest of the tournament.

He has a flair for the flair, as is said, stylishly curling passes and dancing away from defenders to stay in possession.

It will be interesting to see how he matches up against the more physical sides of England in Senegal in their final group games, and undoubtedly, scouts from European clubs will be watching too.

UAE has a much better chance than many will give them credit for. If Team GB can’t muster an early goal, success in the game may come much harder than they think, and may not come at all.

So while having a team that’s only based in a Middle Eastern country roughly the size of South Carolina is seen as negative, it might simply be the reason why no one saw the rampaging UAE soccer team coming.

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