This series of articles will celebrate (or laugh at) some of the worst professional sports teams of all time. I will focus on teams within my lifetime so expect the worst from the 1970s to present day.
One of the biggest surprises during qualification for the 1990 FIFA World Cup, was the emergence of tiny United Arab Emirates. Not expected to qualify for the biggest sporting event, the tiny Middle Eastern nation, shocked the soccer world by qualifying for the World Cup, defeating the likes of Saudi Arabia and China, to earn their ticket to Italy.
Their manager was Brazilian Carlos Alberto Parreira, who joined the team, after leaving Saudi Arabia when they didn’t qualify for the World Cup. Parreira led Kuwait to their sole World Cup appearance in 1982.
The entire roster was home-grown, as every player was playing club football in their homeland. The lack of experience abroad showed for this team. With no players playing in the big European leagues like England, Spain, Germany and Italy, the team were considered massive underdogs in Group D. United Arab Emirates were in a group with Colombia, West Germany and Yugoslavia.
Al Abyad opened the tournament against Colombia in Bologna. The first half was tight and tense. Perreira’s men held the fort solidly against an attacking Colombian side. But it was only a matter of time. Just 5 minutes into the second half Colombian midfielder Bernardo Redin gave the South Americans the lead they would not relinquish. Star midfielder Carlos Valderrama fired a screamer from just outside the 18 yard box, to give Colombia a 2-0 victory.
Things weren’t going to get any easier for the UAE, as powerhouse West Germany awaited them at the majestic San Siro Stadium in Milan. Die Mannschaft swarmed the UAE back with relentless force. Rudi Voller and Jurgen Klinsmann scored a minute apart to give the West Germans a 2-0 lead going into halftime. The start of the second half produced a miracle. UAE scored! Midfielder Khalid Ismail Mubarak took advantage of some careless German defending, found some space, and slid one past keeper Bodo Illgner to give United Arab Emirates their first goal of the World Cup Finals. That joy only lasted a minute, as West German captain Lothar Matthaus volleyed home the West Germans third goal. The Germans would add two more goals to give the European powers an easy 5-1 win. The fifth goal was particularly embarrassing for UAE as the German corner bounced off two UAE defenders into the net.
UAE’s final match of the tournament was against Yugoslavia. While their chances off advancing past the group stage was nil, Parreira still wanted his team to make a good account for themselves. Yugoslavia needed a win to ensure themselves a spot in the knockout stage. It only took 4 minutes to Yugoslavia to get a goal. It only took 8 minutes for Yugoslavia to get two goals. Despite a strike from Ali Thani Jumaa, UAE were no match for the Yugoslavians, who went on to a 4-1 victory, ending UAE’s run at the 1990 World Cup.
After the tournament ended, Parreira stayed with UAE for one more year, until he was offered a manager’s job at Bragantino. He stayed briefly until his country came calling. Parreira accepted the position of head coach for Brazil’s national soccer team in 1991. He would lead them to the 1994 World Cup championship. United Arab Emirates have not qualified for a World Cup since 1990, and will not be in the 2014 World Cup, as they have been eliminated from qualifying.
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