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Asian Cup 2019: An emotional loss for Yemen as Iran takes 5-0 win Open in fullscreen

Uri Levy

Asian Cup 2019: An emotional loss for Yemen as Iran takes 5-0 win

Yemen's forward Abdulwasea Al Matari (L) tackles Iran's midfielder Mehdi Torabi [Getty]

Date of publication: 8 January, 2019

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Iran meets Yemen in their first game for the Asian Cup.

The third day of the Asian Cup in the UAE hosted some intense Middle Eastern action with a game between Iran and Yemen at the Mohammed Bin Zayed stadium in Abu Dhabi on January 7.

The tournament's two teams, with the biggest gap between them in the FIFA rankings (Iran is first on the 29th spot, Yemen the last is 145th), met for what was a special moment for the Yemeni team, as it was their first ever Asian Cup match. 

Slovak coach Jan Kocian gathered the Yemeni team on a remote control from Oman, including setting up training camps in Qatar. Most of the players are not professional footballers, except for Ahmed Al-Sarori, who plays in the fourth division in Brazil, and Alaa Al-Sassi and Ahmed Al-Ghazi in Qatar. Anything but early elimination will be equal to winning the cup.

Iran, on the other hand, are hoping to follow up an impressive World Cup with Asian Cup glory in their first match for the tournament. 

Despite the quality differences between the teams, Iran's Portuguese coach, Carlos Queiroz, was nervous before the game claiming his team's preparation was yet again interrupted by issues not related to football. When one of the correspondents pointed out that Yemen is having bigger problems than Iran, Queiroz claimed to be unaware. Reportedly he apologised later and made it clear that he did not mean to underestimate or misjudge the situation in Yemen. 

On the field, it was a slow start for Team Melli taking them around ten minutes to adjust to the idea that they are playing an Asian Cup match. However, once they settled,  they properly began their hunting journey.

The fact Yemen is here in the tournament is an achievement in itself

Yemen tried some counterattacks, but the quality differences between the two teams was highly significant. From one side a trained professional national team with players in a European level, to the other, a semi-amateur group of players who had limited resources preparing for the competition due to a deadly war in their country. 

The tears of Mohamed Fouad on the bench when the scoreboard showed 5-0 concluded it all.

Yemen hoped to gain something for their people who are suffering from constant bombing, deportation, illnesses and famine due to a Saudi-led war against the Houthi rebels in their country. They were in a search for a pure piece of 'footballistic' escapism, like Iraq had found in 2007, but couldn't find it.

The day before the match, Yemen's captain Alaa Al-Sassi stated that "the fact Yemen is here in the tournament is an achievement" in itself. 

Iran overcame their 'first game' phobia, but there is a lot more waiting for them in the competition. They still have to play the rising team of South East Asia - Vietnam - and face their football arch-rivals - Iraq.

Uri Levy runs the popular football blog BabaGol, which covers football and politics focusing on the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter, and read his blog here.

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