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Yemen: Focus on football, not war!

“Gooool!Goool! Ahtnan-Wahat! Athnan-Wahat”! A thunderous scream was heard in Aden during Thursday afternoon (August 8th, 2019). Thousands of Yemenis celebrated their national teams’ second goal against Lebanon. Yemen, nicknamed “The Red Devis” because of their shirt color, scored twice within three minutes to grab a precious 2-1 victory over Lebanon at their penultimate WAFF (West Asia Football Federation) Championships, held these days in Iraq.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only scream of the day in Aden, one of the most strategic ports in Arabian Peninsula and temporary capital of the “legal” Yemeni government in this war-torn country.

Minutes after the ecstasy of joy, sounds of heavy gunfire echoed from the Jebel Hadid area, where the presidential palace and other government buildings are located. It was the second straight day of street fighting between presidential guards and members of the southern separatist movement. According to national press information more than 11 people lost their lives.

Gun fighting in Yemen is no news. From 2015 onwards Yemen is facing a brutal civil war between the Saudi-backed government forces and the Houthi rebel movement. This devastating war has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed the whole country to the brink of famine.

However, during this uncomfortable situation, with mass bombings, air clashes and threats to separate the country into two (as it was till 1990, when two Yemenis have united) football has continued to flourish. Regardless of their final result, Yemen has made their best performance in WAFF championships. This is a sequel of their ultimate success in early 2019, when they competed for their first time in history as a united country in an Asian Cup final stage, although they played all their home matches in neutral venues.

Where is this motivation hidden? Undoubtedly, there’s a sense of unity between the players. Former coach Jan Kocian, a Czech brave adventurer leading the country in January, didn’t stop describing what he saw in Aden during the team’s preparation. The vast majority of quality footballers are now playing in professional leagues of neighboring Arab States, such as Qatar or UAE, but those left behind are facing severe problems even to train themselves, let alone compete to an organized league. Many of them are forced to work as taxi drivers or supermarket cashiers to get a living, others are thinking of joining the army, where they could secure a monthly wage despite the dangerous atmosphere.

Yemen has never been a football powerhouse. They’re currently ranked at No142 of the official FIFA Ranking, which includes all 213 football nations. If you think this is low, compare it to 2014s No186. After the recent results at 9th WAFF Championships, this number is about to increase further more.

But the main target of this team is not to win on the pitch, but get a small, yet substantial slice of world publicity. A victory of the national team is another scream, to stop the war the soonest possible and find a viable solution to all problems, which threat to dissolve the country.

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