The words of Mahatma Gandhi must have been ringing in Syrian ears at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran on Tuesday night.
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.”, said the legendary Indian independence leader.
Sitting in third place in Group A of the Asia World Cup qualifiers with 12 points to their name, the Syrian national team was aware of the task in front of them. On the opposite end of the pitch stood Iran, the unbeaten group leaders, led by the fanatic and frantic support of their home crowd.
With one foot in the abyss and facing elimination from Asian qualifying, Syrian players did the unthinkable. They beat the despair of what looked like a 2-1 defeat to come back from the dead in dying moments of the game for a 2-2 draw and a vital point that keeps their hopes of grabbing a spot in Russia alive.
Tamer Haj Mohamad opened the scoring for the visitors after 13 minutes but Sardar Azmoun’s brace helped Iran to overturn the deficit completely before Omar Al Somah 93rd-minute heroics helped Syria clinch their place in the playoffs.
Hope Against the Odds
Third place in the standings might not come as an achievement of impressive grandiosity but for a country torn apart by civil war it means a world. The Syrian national team has widely been limped by defects and international sanctions against the President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
With their funds all dried up and limited by FIFA security restrictions, the Syrians used hope to beat the odds playing their home matches at stadia across the third countries which would agree to let them host matches.
With all its importance, the match in Iran was the country’s chance to forget all about terrors of war albeit for a single glorious night of football success in its purest form. Syria’s 2-2 draw pushed the geopolitical tones under the mat as hope defeated resignation and despair for a historic pop at a place in the World Cup.
As the finals whistle went on, Syrian players dropped to their knees with members of the staff rushing onto the pitch with flags strapped on their backs. They went a long way to clinch the playoffs but a long road to Russia is still ahead of them. The battle is won but the war – to use this unfortunate pun to best illustrate the Syrian challenge – is yet to be won.
Pushing for Russian Visa
In order to make it to the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Syria will first play a two-legged tie against Australia next month. The winner will then take on a team from the Concacaf confederation which covers north and central America, and the Caribbean. This could mean Syria will be pitted against the United States as the final and quite a symbolic hurdle standing between them and the World Cup.
Divided by war and challenged by pressure surrounding their home nation, Syrian players will give their best to join the nations already confirmed as World Cup participants. Having been given whopping 4/1 betting odds to overcome the Australian challenge, Syrians are not given much hope of making their dream come true.
Syrian Spirit Lives On
It won’t be the first time the Syrian spirit has been tested and Ayman Hakeem will not budge in front of the challenge. They might not have players of the highest quality and calibre, but their team spirit, unity and impressive work rate have been their main strengths.
Usually fielded in a 4-2-3-1 formation which when needed shifts into a more classical 4-4-2, Syria relies on its talented forwards who are given plenty of room upfront, knowing they’re well-secured by a hardworking defence and midfield.
Syrian national team never gives up and their last-minute 2-2 draw against Iran is not the only example of that.
It was in March when Omar Khribin bagged an injury-time winner to help Syrian grab all three points against Uzbekistan, whereas Ahmad al Salih’s last-minute strike earned Syrian a 2-2 draw with China. Ultimately, another last-minute goal was scored in a 3-1 win over the Korea Republic which effectively ruled them out of contention for the play-off spot.
The Qasioun Eagles have won the hearts of their war-torn nation but also earned plenty of fans worldwide especially the romantic-type ones, which self-admittedly is the author of this tribute to the brave Syrian side.
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