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Al Matari stars in Yemen win

Doha: Yemen celebrated qualifying for the AFC Asian Cup Finals for the first time since unification with a 2-1 win over Nepal at Suheim bin Hamad Stadium on Tuesday.

Coach Abraham Mebratu’s men learned of their qualification after the Philippines had beaten Tajikistan, Yemen’s direct rivals for second place, 2-1 earlier in the day and they will line up against the continent’s best next January when they make their tournament debut in the United Arab Emirates.

Their previous appearance in the Finals was in 1976 when South Yemen qualified.

Yemen came out of the blocks racing and were denied a certain scoring opportunity eight minutes into the match after a last-ditch tackle from Bishal Rai blocked Ayman Al Hajeri’s attempted finish inside the Nepali penalty box.

Abdulwasea Al Matari fired Yemen in front in the 24th minute, receiving Ala Al Sasi’s pass and cutting inside from the right flank before unleashing a thunderous drive from 30 yards out to beat the Nepalese goalkeeper Kiran Chemjong.

As the first half drew to a close, the visitors found the equaliser through Nawayug Shrestha who headed Rai’s free kick into the bottom corner of the Yemeni net in added time to send the two sides into the break level.

Al Sasi was left to rue his luck in the 69th minute after he pounced on a poor defensive clearance and went for the spectacular, firing on the half volley from outside the penalty box. 

The Yemeni playmaker beat Chemjong but watched his strike rattle the crossbar and go behind for a goal kick.

Substitute Mohsen Hassan was brought down inside the box by Nepal captain Biraj Maharjan, prompting the referee to award a penalty and Al Matari stepped up to convert emphatically from the spot for his second of the night seven minutes from time.

The result means Yemen end their qualifiers campaign in second place of Group F with 10 points, just two points behind the Philippines and three ahead of Tajikistan.