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.”


Tearful Tiger Woods breaks duck in emotional scenes at Tour Championship

Updated 25 min 19 sec ago
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Tearful Tiger Woods breaks duck in emotional scenes at Tour Championship

  • The Big Beast caps a remarkable turnaround to claim first title since 2013.
  • This time last year it was feared Tiger's career was over.

LONDON: Tiger Woods was moved to the brink of tears after capturing his first title since 2013 with a two-stroke triumph at the Tour Championship in Atlanta on Sunday that proved he was far from washed up at the age of 42.
Tossing aside five years of career-threatening injury woes, Woods reasserted his status as the best frontrunner in the history of the sport, leading throughout the final round and finishing at 11-under-par 269 at East Lake.
With the massive gallery chanting his name as they stampeded the final fairway in scenes reminiscent of British Opens of yesteryear, Woods moved within two victories of Sam Snead’s all-time record of 82 PGA Tour titles.
“I was having a hard time not crying coming up the last hole,” he said.
“All of a sudden it started hitting me I was going to win the tournament.
“I’ve been sitting on 79 (wins) for five years now. To get 80 is a pretty damn good feeling.”
After carding 71, Woods walked off to a big kiss from girlfriend Erica Herman and a hug from agent Mark Steinberg as security tried to keep the frenzied fans at bay.
The victory capped off a season that started with questions over whether Woods, now 10 years removed from his 14th major title, would even be able to play a full schedule after undergoing spinal fusion surgery in April 2017.
“My body was a wreck,” recalled Woods, who hoped the operation would alleviate debilitating back and leg pain.
“The low point was not knowing whether I would be able to live pain-free again.
“I was beyond playing. I couldn’t sit, I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t lay down without feeling the pain in my back and leg.”