Qualification for Asian Cup provides respite for war-torn Yemen

Yemeni youth take part in a football match in their neighborhood in the capital Sanaa. (AFP)
Updated 17 April 2018
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Qualification for Asian Cup provides respite for war-torn Yemen

  • The national team beat Nepal to qualify for the tournament in the UAE
  • Asian Cup qualification was hailed as a “miracle.”

ADEN, Yemen: A “miracle” winning streak has propelled Yemen’s senior and youth football teams to the Asian Cup, catching the war-torn nation’s attention and offering a common goal to a divided country.
Qualification is a first ever for the senior team, currently based in Qatar, and a rare achievement for the U-16s who still train in Yemen.
“Qualification has brought Yemenis together — they’re doing us proud,” said Ahmed Sabahi, a fan in the southern port city of Aden.
“All Yemenis are behind their team,” he said.
The conflict in Yemen has left nearly 10,000 people dead, tens of thousands wounded and created what the United Nations says is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, rife with once forgotten diseases like cholera and diphtheria.
“We hope the team will honor Yemen and give Yemenis some relief,” said Sabahi.
The senior team beat Nepal 2-1 on March 27, reaching the 2019 AFC Asian Cup to be contested in January-February in the Emirates — for the first time in Yemen’s history.
The U-16 tournament is to take place in Malaysia in September-October.
To build the youth team, selectors traveled the length of the country, including war zones and sectors controlled by rival factions.
Ranked 125 in the world by the sport’s governing body FIFA, Yemen’s senior team has never won a single match in the Gulf Cup against its neighbors since the competition was launched in 1970.
Yemen’s media used to congratulate the team for an “honorable defeat” if they avoided a hammering. Asian Cup qualification was hailed as nothing less than a “miracle.”
Paradoxically, Yemeni football has benefited from the war, with senior players relocated to a training camp in Qatar, which has the most up-to-date facilities as it builds up to hosting the 2022 World Cup.
Abd Al-Salam Al-Saadi, a coach in Sanaa, sees another key factor: “The players have not been drawn into politics.”
Yemen’s war has left infrastructure, homes, schools and ports in ruins. Dozens of stadiums have been bombed or turned into military camps for various armed factions.
For football fans back home, Yemen’s successful qualification offers a glimmer of hope and a distraction from everyday life in what was the Arab world’s poorest country even before the war.
It has “helped put a smile on the face of Yemeni youths, who need reasons to be happy and to forget,” said Saleh Hanash, another fan in Aden.
More than half of Yemen’s 27-million-population are aged under 18.
According to the UN children’s agency UNICEF, more than 1,500 children have been killed in the conflict, while hundreds of minors have been recruited into militias.
After a three-year hiatus, football is making a return to Aden, which Yemen’s internationally-recognized government has declared its provisional capital while Sanaa remains in rebel hands.
The national league has been suspended but football matches are being played in the southern port city, with local tournaments organized between districts.
Football in Yemen “doesn’t gather the crowds you see next door in Gulf states,” said Fadel Al-Wasabi, one of a handful of fans seated on green plastic chairs as two clubs battled it out on a dirt pitch beside a wall pocked by shellfire.
“Maybe that’s because Yemenis are preoccupied with securing their basic needs,” he said, glancing over at a nearby stadium, bombed out and filled with debris, its stands reduced to a heap of rubble.
Ahmed Hussein Husseini, head of Aden’s main sports organization, admitted it was a tall order: “In the shadow of war we are trying, as much as possible, to bring back the spirit and adapt our lives.”


Liverpool return to top of the table with 3-1 win over arch-rivals Manchester United

Updated 38 min 23 sec ago
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Liverpool return to top of the table with 3-1 win over arch-rivals Manchester United

  • Shaqiri braces gives Reds deserved win over United at Anfield.
  • Mourinho's men well beaten as Liverpool leapfrog Manchester City ti return to top of the table.

LIVERPOOL: Two deflected Xherdan Shaqiri strikes handed Liverpool victory over Manchester United in the Premier League for the first time in nine attempts as Jurgen Klopp’s men moved back to the top of the table with a 3-1 win at Anfield on Sunday.
United manager Jose Mourinho claimed ahead of the game that the league leaders have had luck on their side this season, but while there was fortune in substitute Shaqiri’s two goals in the final 17 minutes, the visitors did not deserve anything more than a fifth defeat of the season.
Liverpool leapfrogged Manchester City to finish the weekend where they started, a point clear at the top, and move a mammoth 19 clear of United, who remain in sixth and are now 11 points off the top four.
The contrasting form showed by both sides this season continued as United strained to keep a rampant Liverpool at bay and were only level for so long thanks to a huge error by home goalkeeper Alisson Becker.
Sadio Mane had given Liverpool the lead before Jesse Lingard levelled when Alisson dropped a routine cross at the feet of the England international.
United had the ball in the net first on a rare foray forward but Romelu Lukaku was flagged offside despite not getting a touch to Ashley Young’s free-kick.
But Liverpool then laid siege to the visitors’ goal with David de Gea stretching to keep out a low drive from Roberto Firmino, Young clearing off the line and Fabinho firing wide from the edge of the box.
Only Manchester City have kept Klopp’s side from scoring in the Premier League this season and a United defense that has kept just one clean sheet in the league since September never looked capable of holding out like they had in their two previous visits to Anfield.
Mourinho’s men were finally breached when Mane controlled Fabinho’s chipped ball into the box on his chest and volleyed past the onrushing De Gea.
However, Liverpool’s momentum was punctured by an Alisson gift 12 minutes before the break.
The Brazilian was Liverpool’s hero with an injury-time save to secure the Reds’ place in the last 16 of the Champions League against Napoli on Tuesday.
But he spilled Lukaku’s simple cross into the path of the grateful Lingard to bundle the ball into an unguarded net.
The second half followed a similar pattern with one-way traffic toward the Kop as Liverpool sought the goal to take them back to the top of the table.
De Gea scrambled low to his left to palm Firmino’s prodded effort to safety, while Dejan Lovren and Virgil van Dijk saw efforts deflected behind.
Jurgen Klopp turned to Shaqiri to unlock the United defense 20 minutes from time and the Swiss international needed just three to put Liverpool back in front.
De Gea did well to prevent Ander Herrera turning Mane’s cross into his own net, but the ball fell for Shaqiri and his effort cannoned off Young and in off the underside of the bar.
Seven minutes later, Shaqiri got lucky again when, this time on his favored left foot, his shot flicked off the diving Eric Bailly to leave De Gea helpless.