Yemen does the impossible: This week in Middle East football

Yemen does the impossible: This week in Middle East football
A rare moment of joy for Yemen as the war-battered country celebrates its biggest football achievement ever, writes Uri Levy.
3 min read
01 Apr, 2018
Yemen scored its biggest football achievement ever [Getty]
The past week has seen one of the most mind-blowing events in world football, but for some reason it went almost completely under the radar. 

Despite an ongoing disastrous civil war, an intervention by Saudi Arabia and Iran, a cholera epidemic that has spread across the country and a deep famine that is only getting worse, Yemen has qualified to the 2019 Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates. 

The team from the war-torn country did the impossible on Tuesday, after the Philippines victory over Tajikistan guaranteed them the second spot in the group prior to their game against Nepal in al-Wakrah, Qatar.

The Yemenis knocked the Nepalese 2-1, to mark the country's biggest football achievement ever. 

In the past three years, due to the war, football has been played in Yemen on often breaks and hiatuses, with minimum professional standards.

Another impressive note is that throughout the qualification campaign, Yemen hosted its matches in Qatar, far away from the home environment in Sana'a. Travelling in and out from the country was a hassle for the team, who used boats and ground vehicles to get out of the country.

In a fractured and unstable reality like the Yemeni one, a moment of football joy has been a blessing for the football fans in the country.

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Rest of the region 

The past week saw more Middle Eastern national teams in action, especially those who are going to play in the World Cup. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Morocco and Tunisia all tested their players, formations and squads prior to the forthcoming tournament.

Egypt has played two matches against Portugal and Greece and left with few compliments but with a few anecdotes for Hector Cuper and his crew to discuss.

Against Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo the Pharaohs looked very good for 60 minutes, and even led 1-0 thanks to a Mohamed Salah goal, but fell out of concentration in the last minutes, only to see Ricardo Quaresma assisting Ronaldo a brace, and the Portuguese won 2-1. 

Against Greece, Cuper played an experimental line-up that looked very breakable and ended up losing the match 0-1.

In Egypt many are questioning the real quality of the team and hoping for a major improvement from the ability of Egypt during the World Cup qualification and 2017 AFCON.

Saudi Arabia got an optimistic draw against Ukraine but was destroyed by powerful Belgium 4-0, and yet again looked like one of the weakest teams to take part in the World Cup.

Iran played against Sierra Leone, Tunisia and Algeria. Against the West African team it went smoothly with an easy 4-0 victory, but against the Tunisian team the Persians struggled and lost 1-0. The Tunisians also went on to beat Panama 1-0, and Team Melli gained some of their confidence back against Algeria with a solid 2-1 win.

Morocco was the national team that has impressed the most, with two massive victories against Serbia ans Uzbekistan and looking like the most prepared team among the region's representatives in Russia. 

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