In our ultimate build-up to AFC Asian Cup 2019, FOX Sports Asia provides the lowdown on all 24 teams and we take a closer look at Yemen in this preview.
Football has always been an escape route from the constant instability and violence for the Yemenis – right from the early 1990s when North Yemen and South Yemen combined to form the first unified team to represent the country.
And despite struggling to make their mark on the footballing scene since, the fact that Yemen qualified for their first ever Asian Cup tournament set to kick off in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on January 5 is a momentous achievement in itself.
In Slovak Jan Kocian, Yemen have a well-traveled head coach who brings buckets of experience and know-how to the job — with the only drawback being the instability in the country that doesn’t allow him to stay there and oversee the development of the team.
In addition, he was only appointed in October of 2018, meaning that the Yemen team still relies heavily on the job done by previous coach Abraham Mebratu, who oversaw qualification for the Asian Cup but resigned once it had been achieved.
Coach: Jan Kocian
Captain: Ala Al-Sasi
Best Performance at Asian Cup: Making tournament debut in 2019
Last time out in 2015: Did not qualify
January 7: Iran v Yemen (Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi – 8pm local time)
January 12: Yemen vs Iraq (Al-Sharjah Stadium, Sharjah – 5.30pm local time)
January 16: Vietnam v Yemen (Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain – 8pm local time)
THE KEY PLAYER – ABDULWASEA AL-MATARI
The 24-year-old left winger has played a key role in Yemen’s Asian Cup qualification campaign, scoring four out of his five international goals in pivotal moments and matches that the team has gone on to get positive results in.
Despite playing for the national team for the last five years, it is now that Al-Matari is truly coming into his own as a footballer and much of Yemen’s hopes will hinge on him continuing to produce in crunch moments during the group stages.
He plies his trade in UAE Division One for Dibba Al-Hisn Sports Club and will not be in completely unfamiliar territory when the tournament kicks off in the Emirates.
THE YOUNG STAR – AHMED AL-SARORI
That Al-Sarori has been playing for the Red Devils since 2015 and has only gathered 9 caps for his country during that time speaks of the instability plaguing the country.
However, the attacker is still just 20 years old and the memory of scoring twice in Yemen’s 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification matches when he was just 17 should stand him in good stead in January.
The Asian Cup 2019 will be the biggest stage so far in his fledgling career – and the perfect opportunity for him to express himself.
He plays in Brazil’s fourth division for Central Sport Club, having been loaned there till the end of the season from Al-Ahli Club Sana’a.
Make no bones about it, the very fact that Yemen have qualified for the Asian Cup 2019 is a miracle considering the political turmoil that grips the country.
The team hadn’t played a match since their qualification campaign ended in March until November, when they managed to eke out two friendlies against Saudi Arabia and the UAE – both of which they lost.
Realistically speaking, expecting Yemen to progress past the group stages is highly unlikely. But the fact that they’re even there in the first place, rubbing shoulders with Asia’s footballing elite, is an achievement in itself.
(Photos credit: the-AFC.com)