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Who doesn’t love an un­der­dog story? One sport­ing doc­u­men­tary out this week in UAE cin­e­mas is sure to thrill. The Lights of Rome cen­tres on a huge mo­ment in UAE his­tory – when the na­tional foot­ball team pulled off a mir­a­cle and qual­i­fied for the 1990 World Cup in Italy. First-time direc­tor Ali Khalid, a for­mer 7DAYS jour­nal­ist, ex­plains the im­por­tance of a film, which was pro­duced by Im­age Na­tion and Fires In Baby­lon film­maker Ste­van Ri­ley. He said: “The idea first came just be­fore the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. I wanted to write a 20th an­niver­sary story on the UAE qual­i­fi­ca­tion for a World Cup. I grew up here and have great memories, but I felt the UAE’s achieve­ment was a great story that many peo­ple wouldn’t be fa­mil­iar with. It was a Catch-22 be­cause there was so lit­tle in­for­ma­tion on it.” The UAE team, failed to get out of Group D at Italia 90, but they did man­age goals against even­tual win­ners West Ger­many, com­plete with su­per­stars such as Jur­gen Klins­mann and Lothar Matthaus. Play­ers such as Ali Thani, Ab­dul­rah­man Al Had­dad and Khalid Is­mail be­came big stars. But that’s not the half of the story. As the doc­u­men­tary ex­plains, get­ting to Italy at all was a huge achieve­ment. The UAE had to get through a roundrobin tour­na­ment in Sin­ga­pore fea­tur­ing heavy­weights Saudi Ara­bia, South Korea and China among oth­ers. Un­der the guid­ance of Brazil­ian World Cup-win­ning coach Mario Pa­gallo, they de­fied the odds to qual­ify along with South Korea. Ali ex­plains: “Get­ting out of that group was a mir­a­cle. The tour­na­ment took place over 16 days and at the time the UAE were the least fan­cied of all the teams. “The lo­cal me­dia didn’t give them a chance. But match by match things started to change and there is one fa­mous match against China which is at the heart of the story – after that, peo­ple started to be­lieve.” So what was Ali’s tough­est chal­lenge in put­ting the story to­gether? Find­ing and scour­ing old footage was tough. But that wasn’t the only is­sue. He says: “The play­ers were so hum­ble and mod­est, they didn’t want to seek at­ten­tion or per­sonal glory. We re­ally had to per­suade them that this was es­sen­tially a cul­tural and his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ment, al­most a gift to the younger gen­er­a­tions.”

CEL­E­BRATE: The Lights of Rome is in cin­e­mas this week

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