AFC ASIAN CUP 2019 QUALIFIERS: PHILIPPINES VS YEMEN PREVIEW
Kuala Lumpur: Yemen take on the Philippines in a showdown between the top two teams in Group F of the qualifying rounds for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup on Tuesday evening hoping to overcome an arduous journey and keep their bid for a first-ever appearance at the continental championships on track.
Abraham Mebratu’s team are two points behind the Azkals having picked up a win over Tajikistan and a draw with Nepal in their opening two games, but the team from west Asia have had to endure a difficult trip to the southern city of Bacolod for the clash.
The impact of the ongoing civil war in Yemen plus the distance from the Gulf state to the Philippines added to the internal travel required from Manila to Bacolod have left Mebratu and his team fighting fatigue even before the game kicks off.
“We are struggling from all the traveling,” said the Yemen coach. “Even from the capital Sana’a to Oman which was a very tough journey, that was by bus.
“Oman to Doha. Doha to Manila. Manila to Bacolod. A little bit challenging. This is because Sana’a airport is closed, that’s why we travelled such a long way. We had to face all these problems, but we will do our best to win tomorrow’s match.
“We have four points from the two matches. We didn't get the win against Nepal, but we’re still happy with one point because the players were struggling. They were fasting because it was Ramadan when we played Nepal.
“We are trying to keep our position. We will do our best to make history for Yemen. It would be a very big victory for the country. It will be the first participation of Yemen for the Asian Cup. Me and the players are struggling to make history.”
Yemen and the Philippines last met in November 2015 in the qualifying rounds for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, with the Yemenis winning 1-0 thanks to a goal from Ahmed Al Sarori in that meeting in Manila.
The three points picked up from that win represented the only success achieved by the Yemenis in that phase of the competition as the country finished bottom of the group while the Philippines took third behind Uzbekistan and DPR Korea.
“We know that the Philippine team is one of the strongest teams in the group so we prepared our team very well,” said Mebratu. “Hopefully, it would be a very good game tomorrow for both teams.
“The win two years ago gives us confidence, but we know the Philippines will be a very difficult opponent especially when they play at home.”
The Philippines, like Yemen, are looking to secure a place at the AFC Asian Cup Finals for the first time in their history after going close to earning a berth for Australia 2015 having finished as runners-up behind Palestine at the AFC Challenge Cup.
Wins over Nepal and Tajikistan have put Thomas Dooley’s team in pole position after two games and the former United States international defender only has eyes for the three points on offer.
“We’ll have a team that will do everything to win,” he said. “I don’t care if we win 4-0 or 1-0. We want the best way to go to the Asian Cup. We can do that if we are a team and everyone sees the reality that it is going to be a difficult task ahead of us.”
Nepal, meanwhile, will host Tajikistan in Kathmandu with both teams needing to pick up a win after disappointing starts to the campaign has left the two nations playing catch-up.
Tajikistan have yet to secure a point after losing to Yemen and the Philippines while Nepal’s only point came after a draw with the Yemenis in Kathmandu in June.