Manama: UAE coach Mahdi Ali credited his side’s “family spirit” as the main reason behind beating Iraq 2-1 in the Gulf Cup final at Bahrain’s National Stadium in Manama on Friday.
The win marks an arrival of his youthful team into senior international football after the nucleus of this squad started under Ali as U-17s in 2006. They developed through the various age-levels with the coach: qualifying for the Olympics, making the last eight of the U20 World Cup and winning the U-17, U-23 Gulf Cups and U-19 Asian Cup as well as a silver medal in the Asian Games.
Esmail Al Hammadi grabbed his side’s historic winner in the second half of extra-time to hand the UAE their second Gulf Cup title in six years, after neither side could break a 1-1 deadlock in regulation time.
Ali said after the match: “I don’t like to talk about personal things in the team. But now that the competition is over I can tell you that from the first day of Gulf Cup until the last, I believed we could achieve the title.
“I was confident in my beliefs because of the family atmosphere in camp. That is the main reason that led the team to achieve. When Iraq got the equaliser we still kept going to score and it’s this family spirit, which is the main reason we won.”
Of the supporters, 4,000 of whom were denied entry to the stadium due to overcrowding, Ali said: “As I entered the stadium the first thing I thought about was the fans. I told myself I hope the supporters get out okay and are happy, because there were too many inside the stadium and too many outside waiting.
“I thank the fans who were with us from the start until the end. Winning is the least I could do for the UAE fans and I’m glad to see the positive effect this win will have even on the UAE’s society — I dedicate this win to the supporters and to my mother.”
When asked why the team’s attacking style of football wasn’t typical of the Gulf region, Ali replied: “I spent time in the UK and Germany then I watched Barcelona train. I realised in terms of individual skills, Barcelona weren’t better than us it’s just a cultural difference.
“I did my best to grow a small seed for the future and all we have done is for the future. Thankfully the team has progressed and we are very happy with the praises. Now we hope to do better in the future.
“This is an honour. I just hope this is the start of a team capable of qualifying for a World Cup and I hope this is the same team that will be together come 2018.”