Despite beating the pariah dictatorship 1-0, earlier results meant that the UAE team once again missed out on the world’s biggest football tournament.
But it hasn’t always been crushing disappointment for the country's die hard football fans. The UAE team managed to qualify for Italia '90 - a shock given that the country had only existed as an independent state since 1972 and they hadn’t even bothered to enter a squad for the '74, '78 and '82 tournaments.
But the team, made up mainly of amateur players who plied their trade for Sharjah Club, Abu Dhabi's Al Wasl and Dubai's Al Ahli, had a secret weapon in the form of Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Perriera – who would four years later won the World Cup for Brazil in the US.
But even Perriera’s coaching and cajoling couldn’t paper over the huge gulf in class between the UAE and the three talented outfits they were drawn with in Group D. Successive thrashings against Colombia (2-0), eventual winners Germany (5-1), and quarter finalists Yugoslavia (4-1), saw them leave without a point.
Despite their glorious failure on the pitch, the UAE team attracted something of a cult following after the nation's leader Sheikh Zayed announced that each player who scored a goal would be rewarded with a brand new Rolls Royce.
Italia '90 saw the UAE's only
World Cup finals appearance
The world's media trained their cameras on each UAE game, concerned only with whether any of their players would make good on Sheikh Zayed's promise. Not to disappoint their new legion of adoring fans, both Ali Thani Jumma and Khalid Ismail Mubarak managed to hit the target.
Sixteen years on and the UAE has yet to make a return appearance at the World Cup finals.
So whatever happened to the squad of 1990?
Khalil Ghanim Mubarak, DEFENDER
Khalil's story is one that wasn't unusual for the returning UAE squad but, by today’s standards, seems positively antiquated: whilst players the world over were securing big money transfers after their World Cup campaigns, the defender returned to the UAE and continued to ply his trade with boyhood team Al Khaleej.
He stayed there for another seven years, retiring in 1997 before being kicked upstairs to serve on the club's board. He has since retired to go in to unspecified 'business'.
Mushin Musabah Faraj, GOALKEEPER
How many goalkeepers can you think of who went into football management? Exactly. But Mushin was one goalkeeper to break the trend. The imposing UAE and Sharjah stopper retired from the game in 1998 before taking control of affairs at his life long club.
His performance was so impressive that he was picked up by the UAE FA and is now the country’s team manager, where he’ll work under new coach Bruno Metsu.
Khalid Ismail Mubarak, DEFENDER
Sheikh Zayed delivered on his
Khalid will forever be remembered as the man who scored the UAE’s first ever goal in a World Cup finals – thus winning himself one of Sheikh Zayed's Rolls Royces.
After returning to the UAE Khalid enjoyed a successful run at Al Nasr before becoming a football agent. He now scouts players from Africa and arranges lucrative deals with fading European-based players to come to the UAE's domestic league.
Ali Thani Jumma, DEFENDER
Ali was the other player to come home and find a new Rolls parked in his garage after scoring the UAE's consolation goal against Yugoslavia. Alas, it proved to be the high water mark of his career and he played his last game for the UAE shortly afterwards in 1992. After a brief stint at Sharjah, he disappeared into the government’s bureaucratic machinery to take up one of the UAE's many well-paid public sector jobs.
Nasir Khamees Mubarak, MIDFIELDER
Although you'll read about the odd Turkish player who has been called up for national service just as they are about to enter the most productive phase of their footballing career, rarely do you hear about footballers going into the army when they retire. But once he had finished his career at Al Wasl, Nasir Khamees Mubarak took the left field step of joining the military. Nasser went onto become a policeman although he is still involved in the game: he now coaches talented young players in his spare time.
Yousuf Hussain Mohamed, DEFENDER
Footballers don't have the best reputation for being high brow, free thinking individuals, but former Sharjah defender Yousuf Hussain Mohamed is one of the few to buck the trend. Once his playing days were behind him, went on to train to be a lawyer and has since become the chair of the UAE football league’s competition committee.
Hussain Ghuloum Abbas, MIDFIELDER
When the UAE were asked to reconvene the Italia '90 squad for the Seniors World Cup in Thailand last April, no one knew just how many of the old team would turn up. Thankfully, the full squad was tracked down, including Sharjah midfielder Hussain Ghuloum whom no one had heard anything about for the past decade.
He played a blinder as the UAE made it to the final before being beaten 4-0 by the home nation. But once the competition was over Hussain once again went to ground, telling no one at the UAE FA where he was going. His whereabouts are currently unknown.
Abdulrahman Mohamed, MIDFIELDER
Taking a well-trodden post-football career path, Abdulrahman followed the likes of Ian Wright and Maradona into the exalted career of football punditry.
After an impressive World Cup Abdulrahman returned to his beloved Al Nasr club before becoming a presenter for an Arabic football station based in Dubai.
Adnan Al Talyani
Adnan is by far the most famous footballer the UAE has ever produced. He retired from international football in 1997 after making 156 appearances, which at the time was a world record, and scored 53 goals, a rate of close to one goal every three games.
Post football, Adnan became one of four players from Italia '90 to become a policeman but he is still immensely popular everywhere in the UAE and often makes public appearances at parties and malls.
Eissa Meer, DEFENDER
Ibrahim Meer, DEFENDER
Apart from former Dutch internationals Frank and Ronald De Boer, there have seldom been many sets of twins who have made it to the World Cup finals. But Eissa and Ibrahim Meer joined this select club when they both turned out for the UAE against Germany.
And, as if to reinforce their facial similarities, their careers followed exactly the same trajectories: both played in defence, both played for Sharjah, both quit football after the same game in 2000 and both went on to become policemen in retirement. Weird.
Carlos Alberto Perriera, COACH
Steering the UAE to Italia '90 was by no means the highlight of Carlos Alberto Perriera's career. After leaving the UAE he took charge of his native Brazil and masterminded their USA '94 success.
But it was a pyrrhic victory: the pressure on him before and during the tournament was such that he vowed never to coach the South American side again. His next challenge was Saudi Arabia’s failed assault on France 98 before he had a brief spell in club football. But at the age of 63, and seemingly with his best coaching days behind him, Perriera made a volte face and was handed the keys to Brazil’s campaign in Germany. But that’s not where Perriera’s association with the UAE ended.
In November 2005, and amidst much fanfare, Brazil traveled to Abu Dhabi to play the national team in a friendly. Showing no remorse for his old charges, Brazil romped to a stinging 8-0 victory – the largest loss in UAE’s short footballing history.