Football in the United Arab Emirates

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Football in United Arab Emirates
Country United Arab Emirates
Governing body United Arab Emirates Football Association
National team(s) men's national team
Club competitions
International competitions

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.[1] Football is the most popular sport in the country.

Domestic football


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.[2] 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.[3] The UAE Football League as it is known, includes the top flight UAE Arabian Gulf League with Al Ain S.C.C. the most successful club with eleven title wins.[3] 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.[4] 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. The match ended in a 0-0 draw but UAE lost on penalties.[5]

The team qualified for three of the four subsequent tournaments but did not advance beyond in the first round in any of those appearances.

In 2015 they finished second in their group and advanced to the Knockout stage for the first time since 1996. They knocked out the defending Asian Cup champions Japan in the quarter finals before losing in the semi finals to Australia. They then beat Iraq in the Third Place match for their best finish in the Asian cup Since 1996.

The UAE will host the Asian Cup for the second time in 2019.

World Cup

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 18th Arabian Gulf Cup.[6]

Other teams

Both the under-19s and the Under-17s have been champions, the former winning the AFC tournament in 2008 and the latter the Gulf tournament in 2009. A women's team also competes.

Club football

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 Arabian 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.

Overseas investment

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.[7]


  1. ^ "Kuwait and UAE football teams' poor performance mirrors social ills | Raymond Barrett | Comment is free". 2014-01-17. Retrieved 2014-01-31.
  2. ^ United Arab Emirates at FIFA site
  3. ^ a b "United Arab Emirates - List of Champions". 2013-09-19. Retrieved 2014-01-31.
  4. ^ "United Arab Emirates - List of Cup Winners". 2012-09-06. Retrieved 2014-01-31.
  5. ^ "Asian Nations Cup 1996". 2002-07-21. Retrieved 2014-01-31.
  6. ^ GulfCup (2013-01-19). "Event site". Retrieved 2014-01-31.
  7. ^ "Manchester City become world's richest club with new owners". 2 September 2008. Retrieved 4 September 2010.
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