AL-MUKALLA: Thousands of Yemenis streamed through the streets of different cities across the war-torn country after their under-15 national football team beat Saudi Arabia 4-3 on penalties (1-1 at full time) and won the West Asian Junior Championship 2021 for the first time on Monday.
Shortly after the Yemeni team were declared the winners, Yemenis poured onto the streets of cities across the country to celebrate victory.
In a rare moment of unity, Yemenis in Houthi-held Sanaa and government-controlled Aden or Al-Mukalla waved the national flags, honked car horns, fired live bullets and fireworks and chanted: “With our souls and blood, we will redeem you, Yemen.”
On Monday evening, all channels and media outlets controlled by different Yemeni factions carried live coverage of the event as thousands of fans were glued to giant screens in the streets.
Yemeni commentators say this is the only event to bring Yemenis together for more than a decade.
“Yemenis today forgot their differences to celebrate victory. They fired weapons not to kill each other, but in celebration of this achievement,” Salah Al-Amari, a sports journalist told Arab News.
However, the widespread jubilation was marred by reports of the death of five people due to falling stray bullets in Sanaa and other areas.
Fatehi bin Lazerq, the editor of the news site Aden Al-Ghad, said that even the fighting was paused as many Yemenis shuttered their businesses to watch the match between Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
“This evening, Yemen had tears of joy from east to west, and from north to south. People walked through ruined cities, dark alleys, on empty stomachs with their eyes filled with tears of joy to express love, and a sense of victory,” bin Lazerq said.
Yemenis demanded politicians cash in on the jubilant mood triggered by their team’s success to work on ending the war.
“As those heroes made us happy, you (politicians) should delight us by stopping the war and reaching reconciliation. We are all brothers and we are all Yemenis,” Aiz Addin Mohammed commented under Yemen Sports Minister Naif Al-Bakri’s Facebook post.
Yemeni businessmen, celebrities, mobile companies, banks, and government officials donated tens of thousands of dollars to the victorious team’s players and the administrative staff. Based on pledges on social media and local channels by Tuesday afternoon, each Yemeni player would receive $60,000.
Yemen’s Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed said the government allocated a handsome cash reward for the team, thanking Saudi Arabia for hosting the tournament.
Western diplomats congratulated Yemenis on victory and expressed hope for an end to the war in the country.
“The outstanding performance and high team spirit have given hope to #Yemenis and united them in celebrations throughout the country and beyond,” the EU Mission in Yemen tweeted.
The UN Yemen envoy, Hans Grundberg, who is currently pressing warring factions to accept an immediate truce, hailed the rare unity. “Warm congratulations #Yemen’s juniors football team for winning the West Asian U15 Boys Championship 2021. Heartwarming to see the unity, joy and celebrations across the country,” he said on Twitter.
Reports of fighting between government troops and the Houthis on Tuesday outside the central city of Marib also cast a shadow over the celebrations.
Local officials and media said that heavy fighting broke out near Al-Balaq mountain range, south of Marib, as the Houthis resumed attacks on government troops that defend the strategic mountains overlooking the city.
This week, government troops expelled the Houthis from the eastern parts of Al-Balaq after killing and wounding dozens of Houthis.