The United Arab Emirates may not be a nation synonymous with football excellence, but after an Asian Cup performance that saw the Emirati nation dump out 3/1 favourites Japan at the quarter-final stage it seems the soccer-playing world is starting to sit up and take notice.
Built on a solid foundation of young players who previously showed glimpses of potential at the London Olympics in 2012, the star of the team is Omar Abdulrahman, a playmaker who previously came close to sealing a move to the Premier League.
An impressive part of that under-23 outfit two years ago, Abdulrahman was invited to complete a two-week trial with Manchester City.
At the time, the move was seen as something of a box-ticking exercise designed to appease the club’s Arabic backers.
But then something surprising happened: Abdulrahman impressed to such an extent that the Sky Blues were willing to offer the midfielder a contract with the club.
However, just when it seemed that the attacker would become the first UAE star to take to the
stage in the English top-flight the deal hit a snag – a work-permit related one.
Unable to move to England due to a lack of appearances for the full UAE national side, Abdulrahman remained with Al-Ain – the same club that signed Asamoah Gyan from Sunderland.
Three years on though, and Abdulrahman may have just earned a second chance at Premier League stardom after a series of virtuoso performances for the surprise package of the Asian Cup.
Confident and composed on the ball at all times, it was the 23-year-old who played the killer pass for UAE’s opener against Bahrain in the group phase and again against Qatar.
He was also instrumental in helping the Emirati nation overcome Japan after extra-time, going as far as scoring a Panenka-style penalty in the resulting shootout that gave UAE the crucial edge early in the spot-kick showdown.
Still something of a diamond in the rough, the youngster has racked up 11 goals and 40 assists over his last 62 appearances for Al-Ain and looks destined for bigger and better things.
Whether that’s Manchester City remains to be seen, but don’t be surprised to see Abdulrahman in the Premier League at some point in the near future.
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