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Yemen unites in celebration after U15 football team beats Saudi to win West Asian championship

Yemeni fans gather at a stadium to watch on a screen the West Asian Junior Championships Cup football match between Yemen and Saudi Arabia, in the Huthi-held Yemeni capital Sanaa on December 13, 2021 [MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP via Getty Images]
Yemeni fans gather at a stadium to watch on a screen the West Asian Junior Championships Cup football match between Yemen and Saudi Arabia, in the Huthi-held Yemeni capital Sanaa on December 13, 2021 [MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP via Getty Images]

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.

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".

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."

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.

OPINION: Whoever lifts the Arab Cup, the true winner is the Syrian Arab Republic

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