Hareez Hamed Al Menhali Video Credit: Supplied

Dubai: An Emirati football fan who shot to fame for crying tears of joy after the UAE beat Japan 5-4 on penalties in the Asian Cup quarter-final in Australia four years ago, is appealing for more supporters to show their emotions at this year’s tournament in the UAE, from January 5 to February 1, 2019.

Hareez Hamed Al Menhali became an overnight celebrity when he was spotted in the crowd crying in Sydney, both after Khamis Esmail missed his spot-kick, and even more so after Ali Mabkhout got the eventual winner.

The 42-year-old owner of two camel farms in Al Dhafra and Bani Yas, who has followed the UAE home and away since their 1996 Asian Cup final defeat to Saudi Arabia in Abu Dhabi 23-years ago, has now become an unlikely ambassador for this year’s event as a result of his heart-on-sleeve support.

'This is just a sport'

“As a UAE fan I welcome everyone in the country to support the national team and I hope they have a great competition,” he told Gulf News.

If everyone in the country got involved as the motto of the tournament suggests to ‘Bring Asia Together’ then we could definitely get behind the national team as one unit.

- Hareez Hamed Al Menhali

“But at the end of the day this is just a sport and it is more important to give a big welcome to spectators from wherever they come.

“If everyone in the country got involved as the motto of the tournament suggests to ‘Bring Asia Together’ then we could definitely get behind the national team as one unit.

“As a spectator I am optimistic about the UAE’s chances. I believe the team are up for the competition, but my main concern is the first three games,” he said of the Whites’ group matches against Bahrain in Abu Dhabi on January 5, India in Abu Dhabi on January 10 and Thailand in Al Ain on January 14.

“If we do well in those first three games it will be a big push for the players and they will definitely do a great job after that.

“Even Ali Mabkhout, when he scored the winner in 2015, didn’t feel the same way I did when that goal went in,” he added. “I felt as if I owned the world. It was an emotion that I needed to get out of my system.

“The only time I’ve ever cried was because of football. It’s a beautiful game but a big pressure. As much as I enjoy the game, the farm is the place for me to relax and enjoy the nature afterwards.

“I hope we reach the final and win this time, and if we do it will be 10 times what I felt in Australia.”

The UAE eventually bowed out in the semis with defeat to hosts Australia in 2015, before beating Iraq in the play-off to finish third.

Their best finish in the tournament was as a runner-up, on home soil, in 1996.

Shot to fame

“That video made me famous,” he said.

“But I had always travelled to watch the UAE all over the world. I now have 10,000 followers on Instagram as a result of those tears and I now hope I can use this fame to support the UAE and get more spectators on seats.”

As well as UAE fans, and several Arab teams, the Asian Cup should also draw a crowd for India and Philippines games due to their large expatriate communities.