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Al Sasi hopes to do Yemen proud

Doha: Ever since the retirement of legend Ali Al Nono, Ala Al Sasi has taken the mantle as Yemen’s undisputed talisman. With a decade of experience behind him, the midfielder finally led his nation to their first ever AFC Asian Cup.

Yemen made history earlier this year, qualifying to the AFC Asian Cup for the first time ever, joining Kyrgyz Republic and the Philippines as the three debutants in the UAE 2019.

Their journey hasn’t been an easy one; after finishing bottom of their group in the second round, Yemen had to go through a two-legged play-off against the Maldives which they won 4-0 on aggregate to advance to the third round.

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Ala Al Sasi laid the foundation for progress, scoring the winner in their opening match against Tajikistan. It would prove to be a vital goal, and win, as Yemen ultimately nabbed second place in the group, three points ahead of Tajikistan, sealing qualification to the Finals.

“I am really happy to be part of the team that reached the AFC Asian Cup for the first time in our nation’s history,” said the Yemen captain.

“It is a source of pride for all the players and for every Yemeni. a great achievement.”

Al Sasi is one of several Yemeni players who have moved to the Qatar Stars League following a decision by Qatari football authorities to exclude Yemenis from the foreign player quota in domestic competitions.

The 31-year-old initially signed for Al Sailiyah for a six-month loan period before extending his stay with a new contract in the summer. Qatar played home to Yemen’s matches in the qualifiers due to the security situation in the country.

“Considering the situation in Yemen, it has been difficult for us to play football at home, so being based in Doha helped us a lot in the qualifiers campaign. Qatar is preparing for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, so there is already excellent infrastructure for us to train and play our games."

For their AFC Asian Cup debut (South Yemen qualified for the 1976 edition), Yemen have been drawn in Group D alongside IR Iran, Iraq and Vietnam. Despite the historic qualification, Al Sasi remains grounded, expecting a tough campaign against more experienced sides.

“Realistically, all three teams in our group are better than us, be it in terms of experience or resources. IR Iran have just played in the FIFA World Cup few months ago, and we face them in our opening game. It is a difficult match, but football is a game of surprises, so we hope that we will be on our day when we meet them and can get a result.

Ethiopian coach Abraham Mebratu left to take charge of his home country’s national team after taking Yemen to the finals, and Slovakian Jan Kocian was brought in to replace him as recently as October.

“We are going through difficult situation in the country and it has reflected on our preparations. We now have a new coach, and this is the real start of our preparations. We hope to leave a mark at the AFC Asian Cup and do our nation proud.”

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