Hundreds of fans will gather at Zayed Sports City at the official Manchester City Fanzone event to watch the Sky Blues play Chelsea in one of the Premier League’s most eagerly anticipated games so far this season.
Ahead of the crunch tie, Pep said: “I have had the pleasure to visit Abu Dhabi to enjoy the wonderful hospitality and share the people’s incredible passion for football.
“The great thing about football is that it is a universal language. It can bring people together the excitement and interest around the game in the region is not different to anywhere else. Standards are constantly rising in the Middle East and the fans are knowledgeable and respectful. I always enjoy my time there.
“Since joining the club I have had a fantastic reception from everyone, the fans, the staff and players have been amazing and it is clear that everyone here is working hard for success. The facilities are great and I am enjoying this season for sure.”
The Manchester City FC Sky Blue Fanzone event, on pitch 15 close to the tennis stadium, is for all the family with refreshments available throughout and competitions for all to take part in.
It is part of a series of supporter events the club has held in the UAE in recent years, with fans also coming together to watch the Sky Blues secure two Premier League titles.
A dream can take you a long way. One, somehow, took the UAE’s original ‘Golden Generation’ of amateur players to World Cup 1990.
Coming from a nation then only 19-years old, they defied the odds to grace football’s grandest stage for the thus far one and only time.
An odyssey for journalist and director Ali Khaled which began around the 2010 tournament has seen him turn this underdog story into the documentary ‘Anwar Roma’ (Lights of Rome). This path took him to the prestigious DOC NYC film festival a fortnight ago and will see his work open in cinemas across the UAE – the country where he grew up – from Thursday. In alliance with producers Image Nation Abu Dhabi, the 47-year-old has set about faithfully resurrecting a tale of incredible sporting success against the odds which has not survived into the internet age.
Barely a handful of search results exist on Google, while video clips detailing the achievements of legendary Al Shaab striker Adnan Al Talyani and inspirational Sharjah attacking midfielder Ali Thani are few and far between. Speaking to Sport360 ahead of the poignant release in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Fujairah on National Day, Khaled detailed this painstaking journey to breathe new life into fading memories.
“The idea first came up just before the 2010 World Cup in South Africa,” he says. “I was looking to write a story on the 20th anniversary of the UAE’s participation in Italia 90, and it became apparent that the achievement, especially the qualification in Singapore, was a bit of a forgotten story and hugely under-documented.
“The idea for a documentary was floating around for a few years until Image Nation Abu Dhabi decided to make it a reality, and chairman Mohamed Al Mubarak played a very central role.
“My favourite memory of qualification to the 1990 World Cup was seeing people who hardly even watched football before, like my mother, getting completely caught up in the celebrations.”
Kicking off in 2014, two years were spent in production, with the majority of this time containing an exhaustive trawl through long-forgotten archive footage. Directed by Khaled and produced by award-winning documentary filmmaker Stevan Riley (Fires in Babylon, Listen to Me Marlon), a tale emerges of a near-miracle.
Matches etched into the national consciousness vividly re-emerge. These include the last-minute heartbreak against Iraq which so devastatingly denied them a place at World Cup 1986, to the celebratory scenes in the dressing room in Singapore as a little-fancied team came through a gruelling qualifying tournament to make the next main event.
Highlights of World Cup 1990 show the product of the players’ labour. These include Carlos Valderrama and his trademark curled blonde locks causing devastation in Colombia’s opening 2-0 victory in Group D, goalkeeper Muhsin Musabah’s heroics during the 5-1 defeat to eventual winners West Germany and Thani’s celebrations after planting a header in the 4-1 loss to Yugoslavia which marked the end of the UAE’s participation.
Several members of Whites squads from both before and during the competition emerge to engagingly tell their tales. They are ones of footballers whose skills were honed far away from the professional environs witnessed in football’s traditional heartlands.
“Tears got the better of me, it’s such a beautiful memory of a beautiful achievement, and a life time engraved inside me, inside my soul,” said ex-Al Shabab goalkeeper Abdulqadir Hassan, who was on the substitutes’ bench in Italy. “No one can take it away from me.”
A one-week run has been decided for cinemas, with no official announcements made yet about inclusion on streaming services such as Netflix and Apple Store. At the helm of the project are Image Nation Abu Dhabi, who are one of the leading media and entertainment companies in the Arabic-speaking world.
‘Anwar Roma’ fits into a catalogue which includes Emirati produced feature films (‘Zinzana’, ‘From A to B’), cause-driven documentaries (‘He Named Me Malala’), insightful television shows (‘Beyond Borders’, ‘Hayati Walaskariya’) television dramas (‘Justice’) and award-winning international films (‘The Help’, ‘Flight’, ‘99 Homes’).
Although reluctant to release costs and the criteria for how their latest project will be considered a success, producer Hana Makki expressed her pride at what had already been achieved. She says: “The Image Nation documentary team has the opportunity to memorialise important cultural and historical events for the UAE – and this incredible story fitted perfectly into our mandate.
“The film has already been a success in our eyes as it will document and immortalise this very special moment in UAE history.”
The film comes out at an important moment for UAE sport, with the current generation hanging onto their hopes of making World Cup 2018. Al Ain playmaker Omar Abdulrahman is the star attraction for them, and he appears on screen to describe the influential role the heroes of 26 years ago continue to play.
“Like any player, international or local, of our generation or the previous one, we dream of emulating the Golden Generation and playing in the World Cup,” the 25-year-old says.
ESPN’s ‘30 for 30’ series has led a renaissance in sporting documentaries since 2009, while even Oscar winner Alex Gibney got involved in the field with ‘The Armstrong Lie’ about disgraced cyclist Lance. For Khaled, he believes there is plenty of scope for this region to continue adding to the genre.
He says: “There are some overlooked historical moments in Middle Eastern and Gulf football. Saudi Arabia qualified to four-consecutive World Cups, and Kuwait and Iraq had Golden Generations of their own.
“On a personal level, I’d love to be involved in more projects like ‘Lights of Rome’. Who knows, if the UAE qualify to Russia 2018…”
Nights like these have to be cherished in the Arabian Gulf League.
It saw a virtual sell-out crowd of 8,439 electrify a riotous Zabeel Stadium, bathed in competing yellow and red banners. The result also added to the mounting evidence nascent leaders Al Wasl could break the tiresome duopoly between Monday’s opponents Al Ahli and upcoming foes Al Ain at the top of the table.
How fantastic it would be if this was the norm.
To put another positive spin on a match which fizzled out after the interval, the goalless stalemate boosted both sides.
A seven-match winning streak ended for the upstart hosts under inspirational coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena, but they head into the weekend trip to the vanquished 2016 AFC Champions League finalists with dreams validated.
For champions Ahli, they stemmed the bleeding after the toothless 2-0 loss at Al Jazira and embarrassing collapse suffered in the 3-3 draw with Al Dhafra.
“I have to say from the game, only football won,” said visiting coach Cosmin Olaroiu. “Both teams trying to play, great spirit and aggression, supporters and all the ingredients for a football game.
“I wish I played all the games like this.”
If first-half chances had fallen to the right man, the Red Knights would have had something more tangible to celebrate. Playing at his boyhood club, UAE midfielder Habib Fardan blazed over with the goal at his mercy and then shot straight at a brave Rashed Ali from close range.
A run of one goal in 23 matches for club and country makes perfect sense.
This was also a rare quiet night for Wasl’s incredible Brazilian, Fabio De Lima.
The forward teed up spurned chances for compatriots Caio – whose later dragged effort at the death floored several of his frustrated team-mates – and Ronaldo Mendes, without ever looking like crafting a repeat of last week’s stunning winner at Emirates Club to continue his goal-per-game ratio this term.
Yet there were no regrets for Arruabarrena.
He said: “We played against a team with much more money and many national team players. But we showed we can compete.”
The final whistle sent the competing hordes into the Dubai night. This timeless rivalry is set to strengthen in the months ahead.
Image by Christopher Whiteoak.