Abu Dhabi // High praise and patriotic pride greeted the UAE’s triumphant footballers when they returned home yesterday after winning the Gulf Cup.
After the team’s dramatic 2-1 extra-time victory over Iraq in Friday night’s final in Bahrain, the President, Sheikh Khalifa, welcomed them at Al Rawda Palace in Al Ain.
Television pictures showed Sheikh Khalifa smiling and laughing before posing for photographs with the players, who stood alongside him holding the prestigious trophy.
“The achievement made by the sons of the UAE at this big Gulf event swept the UAE with joy and renewed our continuous celebration of our achievements,” the President said as he shook hands with the players. “It is an opportunity to show our solidarity and eternal love for this generous country.”
Sheikh Khalifa said national sports and those who took part in them were the face of the UAE and it was everyone’s duty to stand by them. “Achievements cannot be made out of nothing, rather, they are made through diligent work, patience and self-belief and, above all, through love of the country, as we all walk the same path and seek to make our state and its pride the ultimate and highest goal.”
And the plaudits did not end there. In appreciation of their achievement, Sheikh Khalifa granted Dh50 million to the squad while Sheikha Hind bint Maktoum, wife of Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid, Vice-President and Ruler of Dubai, donated Dh25 million.
The team were also granted Dh12 million by Sheikh Rashid and Sheikh Saeed, sons of Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid, the Minister of Finance and Dubai’s Deputy Ruler.
Praise also came from overseas as the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, called the President to pass on his congratulations.
Football fans on their way home from Bahrain were offered flowers by army and police officers at the airport and at the UAE border with Saudi Arabia.
There were nearly 18,400 returning.More than 11,200 came back by air and the rest drove through Al Ghuweifat border crossing.
Fans who stayed in the UAE recovered yesterday after enthusiastic celebrations.
In Abu Dhabi, hundreds took part in a car parade along the Corniche.
Ayesha Al Alawi, 22, was there to see the celebrations with her family. “There were people getting outside the cars and running on the streets showing that they were happy and there were some guys also dancing beside their cars and leaning out of the windows,” she said.
Cars filled with fans turned many of the main roads in Dubai and Sharjah into car parks as hundreds took to the streets to celebrate. There were impromptu parades at Al Mamzar, starting from the Sharjah section of the beach and running all the way to Dubai.
Traffic was also backed up from Jumeirah Beach Road, a popular spot for parades, to Jumeirah Beach Residence in Dubai Marina.
“The road was so packed, everyone was dancing and singing in their cars,” said Mohammed Hamaideh, 23, an engineer, who celebrated on Jumeirah Beach Road until 3am. “We wanted to go out to celebrate the victory, and feel the common joy.”
The scene was repeated on the streets of Manama, said Marwan Khoory, 29, an Emirati fan who flew to Bahrain to support the team.
“The was so much happiness in the place,” he said. “There were car parades everywhere and there were many Bahraini families who took to the streets to congratulate us.”