The UAE fell behind after just 33 seconds but recovered brilliantly to begin their 2022 World Cup-qualifying campaign with victory over Malaysia – the first official one of the Bert van Marwijk era.
Van Marwijk’s new-look side – a mix of exciting youth and experienced old heads – had their struggles, especially early on, when they fell behind to Syafiq Ahmad’s header with half a minute on the clock.
The hosts started rapidly at a raucous Stadium Nasional Bukit Jalil in Kuala Lumpur but a brace either side of the break from lethal Ali Mabkhout – who reached half a century of goals from just 80 caps – secured a hard-fought and deserving win.
They may be at different ends of the football spectrum, but Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Pattison share a common trait – their careers were launched (or could be) by impressing against superior opposition.
Portugal icon Ronaldo has risen to become one of the leading players of his generation. But a spotlight was shone on him as a teenager when he left Manchester United defender John O’Shea feeling dizzy during a pre-season friendly against Sporting Lisbon in the summer of 2003.
United’s players were in awe and told boss Sir Alex Ferguson he had to sign the 17-year-old. Ronaldo was soon packing his bags for Manchester and the rest is history.
The road ahead for Pattison is a long and arduous one, but he impressed in the same way Juventus and former Real Madrid star Ronaldo did, shining in a Spanish tournament against Real Murcia, which has in turn earned him a contract, aged just 13.
One stumbling block was his dad Jody had to move to Dubai for a year, so the deal was put on hold. But Murcia – who last graced Spain’s top flight in 2007/08 – waited patiently to get their man.
“To sign this contract is an amazing feeling,” said Pattison.
“It’s different to anything I’ve ever felt. The length of it is until I get scouted by another team, which hopefully happens.
“It came about around two years ago when I played a tournament with Promesas Elche.
“We played Real Murcia and I scored two goals to win the game and they really liked me and offered me trials. I played and they wanted to sign me, but we moved to Dubai for my dad’s job so I couldn’t play that year.
“They waited for me and this year they wanted me back. I signed the contract a few days ago.”
The family had lived in Spain for a decade prior to the move to the UAE, due to dad Jody setting up his design agency, Bubblegum Business Solutions, with young Harry first catching the attention of Alicante Hercules as a seven-year-old. He spent three years there before moving on to Elche.
Even when living in the Emirates, Harry maintained his fitness, honed his ability and also hoovered up numerous awards.
“We lived in Dubai for about a year. I played for three teams there, Repton, IJF Academy and DASSA,” said the Coventry-born centre midfielder.
“I was captain for Dubai Boys and got most valuable player there. For IJF I got MVP for the whole academy and also got MVP for the school too.”
The family are currently in Spain with Harry as he takes the next steps of his career, and the youngster will remain there as the rest of his loved ones return to Dubai next month.
“This is only the start of my journey,” said Pattison, an Arsenal and Real Madrid fan who counts Manchester City midfielders Phil Foden and Kevin De Bruyne as his favourite players.
“The next step is going on to bigger things, a bigger team and hopefully growing mentally and physically into a better person and player and get recognised by bigger teams. That’s my main aim.
“I want to play as well as I can, impress my team-mates and coaches and the staff at Murcia.
“This whole year has been amazing, meeting the staff at IJF and at the school, they were really good. If I can become an ambassador and help kids pursue their dreams and what they want in life that would be amazing.”
As the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup ended on a high with the United States claiming their fourth title just a few weeks ago, the tournament was a clear indication of how the general landscape of women’s sports had changed for the better over the last couple of years.
For UAE, the manifestation of that change can be seen with the emergence of clubs like Leoni FC, an all-female Dubai-based football club, and the reigning champions of the 2019 Ahdaaf Cup, who are dedicatedly showing that they are truly a force to be reckoned with.
The premise of the club’s creation was laid by current captain, Dalia Abdelrahman, who had the idea of making an all-girls team along with a few of her university friends, purely out of love for the sport.
“We just wanted to play football,” the 22-year-old told Sport360. “At the time, our university did not have any teams for the girls, so we spoke to the administration and started training on our own after the boys’ football team. We were playing for fun and really wanted to play competitively.
“Initially I was training the girls along with my friend, but eventually coach Tariq came along, at the time he was just looking for female footballers for a tournament and ended up coaching us.”
The collaboration between Abdelrahman and coach Tariq Mohammed eventually led to the formation of Leoni FC and, even though the club came in to existence only in January 2017, they are not just competing but winning trophies as well.
Before coach Tariq’s involvement with Leoni had begun, the 31-year-old was also of the opinion that the sport of football is too exclusive to men. However, when he saw the lengths to which the girls were willing to go just to play the sport, his views drastically changed and, in the process, he also realised what an anathema these views were and the extent to which they held the players back.
Player attrition and convincing the parents were just some of the challenges the coach had to face during the initial stages.
“It took me a long time to convince the parents and make the girls believe that they can do everything men can, if not better,” he said.
“It was difficult to get the number of girls to actually a form a team. There were a lot of girls who were coming and going, and being part of the team is a commitment, so it just took some time to finally find the girls who were willing to put in the commitment and set a team that was capable of competing and winning tournaments and leagues.”
Both Abdelrahman and coach Tariq have huge plans for the team. Abdelrahman hopes that Leoni FC’s success will inspire the giants of the local men’s professional Arabian Gulf League, clubs like Al Wasl and Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club to finally create women’s squads. Unbeknownst to the team, coach Tariq’s goal is also to create the UAE’s first football club for women.
He said: “Hopefully in the near future, my goal, which they (the girls) have not heard about yet, is for them to form the first football club for women in the region. That’s my ultimate goal for them and I don’t think they deserve anything less than that.”