Yemen’s under-15 football team won the West Asian Junior Championship on Monday by beating hosts Saudi Arabia 4-3 on penalties. Back home in the war-torn country, thousands poured onto the streets across various cities in celebration, in a rare display of national unity.
Warm congratulations #Yemen's juniors football ⚽️ team for winning the West Asian U15 Boys Championship 2021. Heartwarming to see the unity, joy and celebrations across the country. @waffootball pic.twitter.com/Kjl75nFWfB
— @OSE_Yemen (@OSE_Yemen) December 13, 2021
Congratulations to #Yemen and its juniors football team for winning the West Asian Junior Championship 2021! The outstanding performance and high team spirit have given hope to #Yemenis and united them in celebrations throughout the country and beyond. pic.twitter.com/QYN0XrSNT5
— EUinYemen (@EUinYemen) December 13, 2021
Jubilation erupted from north to south in the divided country, which has been ravaged by internal conflict and a Saudi-led war for the past seven years. Footage on social media shows people celebrating by firing live bullets, honking car horns and letting off fireworks with many chanting “With our souls, and blood, we will redeem you, Yemen”.
— Basha باشا (@BashaReport) December 13, 2021
One Yemeni sports journalist, Salah Al-Amari, told Arab News that “Yemenis today forgot their differences to celebrate victory. They fired weapons not to kill each other, but in celebration of this achievement.”
My sister just sent to me and it was the most beautiful thing I’ve seen today. It’s not just a bout a team winning a soccer game. It’s a breather, it’s hope, it’s longing for happiness. It’s a stolen moment of peace Congratulations #yemen pic.twitter.com/nx0CUYt8mZ
— Thana Faroq (@Thanafaroq) December 13, 2021
Saudi Arabia has led a coalition of mainly Arab armies to strike Yemen, claiming it is working to drawback Houthi gains in the north of the country and reinstate the internationally-backed government. The war has killed more than 100,000 people and pushed millions to the brink of famine, according to the United Nations (UN) official data.
Bassam Hasan Alqahtani, 24, a pharmacist in Sanaa, went to a stadium with dozens of his friends to watch the game, which took place in Saudi Arabia, broadcast on big screens. “The whole atmosphere was amazing,” he said. For him, beating Saudi Arabia added more significance to the win. “Our happiness is two: one for winning the cup and the second for winning against Saudi Arabia,” he said.
The celebrations following the win were, however, marred by tragedy in the capital Sanaa, currently under the control of the Houthi-led, de facto government. At least five people were killed, including a young girl with hundreds injured following stray bullets from celebratory gunfire.
There was also controversy on the pitch during the tournament. In the closing minutes of the semi-finals against Syria, which Yemen won 2-1, Syria’s goalkeeper coach Louay Othman slapped one of the Yemeni players during a confrontation with a Syrian player after the ball went out of play. The incident sparked outrage on social media and led to Othman being suspended until further notice and a statement issued by the Syrian Football Federation condemning his action. Footage shared online later showed the Syrian team’s delegation apologising to their Yemeni counterparts and congratulating them on the victory.