No goals, but pride for Yemen's national football team

No goals, but pride for Yemen's national football team
Yemen's players might not have put the ball in the back of the net in this year's football Gulf Cup, but their dogged performance stole the hearts of their nation.
3 min read
20 Nov, 2014
Yemeni fans have filled Riyadh's stadiums (AFP)
They didn't win. They didn't score. And they're out at the group stages.

Yet, Yemen's grand total of two points from three matches in this year's Gulf Cup was a record for the nation's football team.

The achievement saw spirited performances against vastly better-funded teams, and supporters packing the stands in Riyadh waving the red, white and black tricolour of Yemen's national flag.

Yemen have been the underdog heroes of the Gulf Cup so far.

Low hopes

There was little expectation of success from Yemeni fans when the tournament started. But as the team put in resolute performances in the opening two games against Bahrain and Qatar to earn two points, hopes began to build. 

Players displayed skills on the ball that came straight off the streets of Sanaa, so when Yemen lost the deciding game to hosts Saudi Arabia 1-0, the players still returned as heroes.

Public relations makeover

Remember, this is a country better-known around the world, rightly or wrongly, for tanks and terrorism rather than tika-taka.

But it was the fans who really stole the show. Attendances at the Gulf Cup have been sparse this year, with Saudi fans failing to fill up their home ground in Riyadh.

Yemeni pop star Balqees was tweeting her support for the national team - here she says that the tournament marks the beginning of Yemeni football's golden era.

Yet, when the host team played their southern neighbour, Yemeni fans rolled in, forcing Saudi police to close the gates to supporters before the match had even started.

The away section was filled, with hundreds more Yemeni supporters locked out of the ground.

The Saudi section was embarrassingly empty.

When the the Yemeni national anthem was played and it reached its most rousing line, roughly translated to "my heart beats to the tune of Yemen", the stadium rang out to the voices of thousands of die-hard supporters. It was as though the match was being played over the border in Yemen's mountains, not in the Saudi Arabia heartland, the Najd.

Why the passionate support, from Yemenis home and abroad, then?

Well, with the current state Yemen finds itself in, with fighting, assassinations, and a collapsing economy, Yemenis need something to smile about. And their plucky football team, with little funding and training, and banned from playing matches in Yemen for security reasons, provided it.

Now all they need is a striker.

Translation: Despite everything in Yemen, and even if we lost by a goal, we won with our spirit and our support, and that's honour enough for us.