Syria keeps the World Cup hopes alive with play-offs qualification
Syrian football team kept their nation's hopes of World Cup qualification alive, after a 2-2 draw against Iran in the third round of Asian qualifiers. Omar Al Soma's 93rd minute equalizer for Syria salvaged a point, making them third in their group. This earned them a chance to compete in the 2018 World Cup play-offs, where they will meet Australia.
It is a miracle that Syria, ravaged by civil war since 2011, is still in the fray fighting for their chance for a place in the final 32 of 2018 FIFA World Cup. Against all odds, the national football team progressed to the play-off stage beating teams like China, Uzbekistan, and Qatar, in some of the third round group stage matches.
Due to security concerns, Malaysia has been the home to Syrian football team since last September, for the 3rd round qualifiers, meaning a lack of an actual home advantage and devoid of local support. Oman was their home for the second round.
Early in their World Cup qualifying campaign, political divisions threatened the Syrian football team's unity; players as a protest against Bashar al-Assad's regime, refused to represent Syria. Over time the players softened their stance and the likes of veteran forward Firas Al Khatib ended his exile, while striker Omar Al Soma made a comeback to national team after a five-year absence.
Syria were ranked world no. 151 in Jan 2015 and by the time seedings for final round of Asian qualifiers came out in Apr 2016, they were ranked 110, the second lowest of all 12 contending teams. By Aug 10, their ranking improved to 80.
In the play-offs, Syria face a formidable task of overcoming Australia, the other third-placed team in the 3rd round Asian qualifiers. If successful, they will play fourth-placed team from CONCACAF, the central and North American confederation, for their first ever spot in World Cup. A WC qualification for Syria may end up being elusive, but their efforts, under the trying circumstances, are worth remembering.