Yemen manager Jan Kocian says the Asian Cup debutants are dreaming of upsetting the more established teams at this month’s tournament in the UAE.
The Middle Eastern side, the lowest-ranked team in the competition at 135th in the world, begin their Group D campaign next Monday against Iran, the continent’s top team at 29th, in Abu Dhabi.
Following that, Yemen take on Iraq in Sharjah on January 12 before rounding off the group four days later against Vietnam in Al Ain. Only the top two teams in each pool are guaranteed to progress, alongside the four best third-placed sides.
For Yemen, simply qualifying for Asia’s premier football event represents success in itself.
Political turmoil has afflicted the war-torn country, and the national league has since been suspended, with the team unable to play any matches until November having sealed a place at the tournament eight months beforehand.
“The target now is not easy,” Kocian said. “We are newcomers in this Asian Cup and want the best. Normally you want to win a game, but we can dream as a small country.
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"Yemen can dream of big victories against Iran and Iraq. It’s normal. It may not be real, but we will try. The target is we want to win.”
Kocian conceded his side is not packed with the finest talent Asia has to offer – Dibba Al Hisn winger Abdulwasea Al Matari is arguably their standout player – but hailed a strong collective as reason for optimism heading into the expanded 24-team event.
The vastly experienced Slovak, appointed only in October, is not able to reside in Yemen given the political situation there. However, he has worked with his team at training camps in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, did see positives in the recent friendly defeats – both narrow – to Saudi and the UAE. On Sunday, Yemen lost 1-0 to Syria in Abu Dhabi.
Kocian, who has previously managed Slovakia amid a nomadic managerial career, is keen to hear some support in the stands when his side kick off their tournament next week against the much-favoured Iran at the Mohamed bin Zayed Stadium.
He is also hoping his team can bring a little bit of cheer, however small, to their compatriots back home.
“I’m very happy to see people from Yemen in the UAE and Saudi,” Kocian said. “For people in Yemen the situation is very bad, for those who stay there the life is very hard. But maybe with victory we can give a good representation of them in the Asian Cup.
“We have Iran, Iraq, Vietnam: all the teams are very strong. But we are good defensively and have good team spirit. I won’t tell you we will win, but we want to.”