Amen Al Sunaini: We still have hope
It may be their first FIFA competition but Yemen are certainly winning admirers with a high-octane brand of football that has kept fans on the edge of their seats right up to the final whistle. After a ding-dong 3-4 loss to Portugal in the match of the finals so far and a last-gasp equaliser against Cameroon, the team from the Middle East go into their final group clash against mighty Brazil flying the Asian flag. Coach Amen Al Sunaini chatted with FIFA.com ahead of the game.
How does it feel to be the only Asian team remaining in the tournament with a chance of qualifying for the next round?
We are very proud. We can still qualify with a 1-0 win if Portugal and Cameroon draw. Of course it will be difficult against Brazil but the very fact that we still have a possibility and some hope to go through is a great achievement.
Sami Juaim’s injury-time goal changed everything. How did you see it?
I was just so happy because, more than anything else, we are still in the competition and not just making up the numbers in our final game. The Asian players have their own way to celebrate.
You need to beat Brazil. Will you go out and attack?
I know we need to win but it will also be difficult to do so. The players lack experience to finish off these kind of high-profile matches. My only wish is that we play good football. I’m sure it will be a game to remember as Yemen people love Brazilian football.
Yemen have surprised many in Finland. You could have six points now…
True. Against Portugal we were winning 2-0 and we had a chance to make it 3-0 before they scored against us. Portugal were not better than us and nor were Cameroon but the experience their players have meant they were able to score goals from half chances. This is the first time Yemen have participated in a FIFA tournament. We have done very well so far and I am satisfied.
Back home, how are people reacting to your feats?
They are watching the matches on TV and are very excited. The President (Ali Abdallah Saleh) called us on Saturday and congratulated us on our performance. He told us how unfortunate we were and that the nation was behind us.
Why has it taken Yemen so long to qualify for a FIFA finals?
There are no professional players in Yemen so our league is not the strongest. At U-17 level players come and go, so once in a while you get a good team and this is what happened with this crop of youngsters. If you look at its history, the trophy has been shared around over the years. African teams have done well and Saudi Arabia won it so much depends on the quality of players you have in one particular year. Next year we might not get the same quality.
Tell us about this set of players?
Most of the players are students so it’s not easy to get them for a long time because they have to go to school. Most come from first and second division clubs. About a year ago we spent two months selecting them, starting with 60 players and narrowing the squad down to 20. We qualified for the Asian U-17 finals and lost in the UAE to Korea (Republic) on penalties. They stand out for their ball skills and speed.
Many players from the Middle East are lost to football after starring at a young age. What can you do to prevent this from happening to these boys?
They are the future of Yemen football. It is essential that we hold on to them and keep up their preparation while playing friendly matches. Only in this way can we be assured we will have good results in the future.