Syria- the team that nearly defied all odds
Syrian hearts were broken yesterday when a Tim Cahill header ended their chances of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.
With just seconds remaining on the clock, Syria's dream nearly came to fruition after they were awarded a free-kick in a dangerous position close to the edge of the box. Omar Al Somah, who has scored in his last three internationals, hit a thunderous free-kick, only for the ball to ricochet off the post, signalling that their luck had finally come to an end.
But it wasn’t just luck that had got them so far on this incredible journey, it was togetherness and hard work. In their games against China, Iran and Australia they showed that they will give everything for their national team.
Even if they weren’t as technically gifted as their opponents, they put in 100% for their country and they put their bodies on the line and it worked more often than not. It is a skill many European national teams would love for their players to have, as most of the time their squad is much more focused on club football, apart from international tournaments.
Heading into the first stage of qualifying against Australia, many people were shocked Syria had made it that far. To many, it seems crazy that Syria even have a national side, and understandably so given all that is going on in their homeland. However, they are a team who have defied the odds ever since the start of their Asian World Cup qualifying back in March.
After making it through to the second round of groups, Syria were faced with a group including Iran, South Korea, China, Uzbekistan and Qatar. They had done well to even make it to that stage. It was then expected that they would, along with Qatar, become the whipping boys of the group.
Yet they refused to bow down. Right until the final minute of the previous group game, where they equalised against Iran, they never stopped trying to prove people wrong. It’s fair to say that their campaign has almost gone as they had wished it would.
Australia were a team who were supposed to walk all over them, but Syria refused to let them and even took the lead yesterday, before Cahill’s brace eventually knocked them out. Similarly, Iran – the team they faced in their last group game – were a much stronger side than them, but they scored a very late equaliser and got a point that earned them a place in the qualifier with Australia.
Once they reached the playoffs, everybody apart from Australia were praying for them to reach the World Cup. With what’s going on in Syria, and the fact that they have to play their home games in Malaysia, it would have been quite unbelievable had they qualified for the World Cup.
However, it just wasn’t to be. If they did, it would have been one of the greatest international stories in football history.
However, their achievements up until the loss against Australia yesterday- which was sealed only in extra time- must not be overlooked just because they have been unable to reach the World Cup.
Only one of their players ply their trade outside Asia- that player being Gabriel Somi of Ostersunds. Otherwise, all of their players play in either Syria or Egypt, and some others even play in Jordan, the Maldives and Oman. Most, if not all of the leagues that Syrian players play in aren’t even as good as England's League Two.
Over two legs, Syria were able to keep the scores level against the Aussies, whose team includes Aaron Mooy, Brad Smith and Mathew Ryan, all players that play regular football in the Premier League. The fact they weren’t overrun in midfield and managed to score two goals in the two games against them speaks volumes about how well they performed and how they exceeded everyone’s expectations.
It may have been a sad ending for Syria but everyone will be praying for them to qualify for the 2022 World Cup after their inspirational campaign this time around.