At the very first time of asking, and under Brazilian manager Carlos Alberto Parreira, the UAE looked all set to shock the world of football by landing a place at the 1986 World Cup Finals to be held in Mexico.

Leading 2-0 in the second leg of a play-off tie against Iraq, the young Emirati team was seconds away from qualifying. But the nation was left heartbroken when fate denied them the chance to compete with the planets best teams, as Iraq scored to knock the UAE out of the tournament based on the away goals rule.


This meant it was in fact their opponents who marched on to their first World Cup. Four years later the UAE team, featuring many of the players that had experienced dejection against Iraq, headed to Singapore for a qualifying campaign against seemingly stronger rivals South Korea, North Korea, China, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.


The games would determine who would play at the 1990 World Cup in Italy but this time, little was expected of a team in turmoil and reeling from a disbandment of its Football Association.


The next 16 days took supporters on a rollercoaster ride of emotions that would end with the team, from a country which was then only 18 years old, taking their place in Middle East sporting history. Anwar Roma (The Lights of Rome) is the story of the UAE golden generation of footballers – a team without a single professional but with the passion and determination to put their country on the map.


On one of the UAEs most memorable days in history the Emirati football team, now managed bylegendary Brazilian coach Mario Zagalo, pulled off a stunning 2-1 victory over China in the dying minutes of the match.


The win fired the imagination and hopes of its supporters back home and a campaign that started with little hope, was transformed. A draw against South Korea in their final match sealed qualification to Italia 90 and sparked celebrations across the seven emirates.


Overcoming all the odds, the players not only made themselves national heroes but provided a glimpse of the progress that would come to define the nascent country in the ensuing years.

  • Director

    Ali Khaled