War-torn Yemen look ahead after Asian Cup mauling
Abu Dhabi, Jan 8 (AFP) Yemen coach Jan Kocian was left scratching for positives after the war-torn country's first-ever Asian Cup outing ended in a 5-0 thrashing by Iran.
Hopelessly outclassed, Yemen went into halftime down by three goals in Abu Dhabi on Monday night and Kocian's players were out on their feet by the time substitute Saman Ghoddos volleyed home Iran's fifth 12 minutes from time.
"We have to live with this result but we have two more games to play and we can play better," said the Slovakian, striking a defiant tone despite their Group D mugging.
"Iran were physically superior to us -- they are a team that plays at the World Cup. We have no such experience." Given the parlous state of football in Yemen, where players have been kidnapped by extremists or gone off to fight in the civil war, just qualifying for the Asian Cup was an astonishing achievement for Yemen.
The local league has been suspended and stadiums reduced to rubble, forcing players to work as taxi drivers or in supermarkets to feed their families.
Others Yemen national team players have died, among the tens of thousands killed in a conflict exacerbated by famine and disease.
Under the terms of his contract, Kocian won't step foot inside Yemen but his job remains a logistical nightmare.
"We hardly have the chance to train together and we didn't have enough time to prepare for the Asian Cup," said the former Slovakia head coach after a Mehdi Taremi double helped Iran to an easy victory.
"This game was very hard for us. Team morale fell after we conceded two quick goals to go in 3-0 down at halftime but I told my players to keep their heads up." Yemen, who lost five of six games in the build-up to the Asian Cup, will look to salvage pride in their next two group matches against Iraq and Vietnam and provide some brief solace for their war-ravaged country.
Syria and, notably Iraq, have shown in recent years how teams can come through extreme hardship to raise their game -- the latter famously lifting the Asian Cup in 2007 in a fairytale success.
Yemen's next two matches look likely to be more of an exercise in damage limitation for the world's 135th-ranked side, based on Monday's ragged performance. But Kocian understandably called for a little perspective.
"Iran's players play in the best leagues in the world," he shrugged. "We came here with two months of preparation -- we just have to leave this game behind and move on