Published: Thu, September 07, 2017
Sports | By Brett Lawson

War-divided Syrians unite over football spot in Asian play-offs

War-divided Syrians unite over football spot in Asian play-offs

South Korea booked their ticket to the 2018 World Cup in Russian Federation thanks to a nervy 0-0 draw in Uzbekistan. The Saudis had a +2 goal difference in their favour over the Aussies.

The hoped-for winning of the Syrian team against Iran in their final group match coupled with the possibility of the defeat of South Korea by Uzbekistan in the final round would be the magic potion for the Syrian team to secure the second spot and direct entry to the next year's tournament in Russian Federation.

In Group B of Asian qualifying, Saudi Arabia claimed their World Cup place with a 1-0 win over Japan.

But substitute Fahad Al-Muwallad's 63rd-minute goal capped off a frustrating night for Ange Postecoglou's men, who will have to do it the hard way to ensure a place at Russian Federation 2018.

Syria have never reached the World Cup before, and their current success comes despite the brutal civil war that has forced them to play all their home games overseas.

Al-Khatib, who now plays for a team in Homs, was one of only four domestic-based players in the starting lineup.

A two-legged match against Australia now awaits the side in October.

Australia needed a big favour from Japan - either a win or a draw in Jeddah on Wednesday morning (NZT) - to bail them out after Tuesday night's hollow 2-1 victory over Thailand.

But then the momentum turned.

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Matchwinner Al Muwallad: "When our spirit comes to the fore, the Green Falcons are unstoppable".

Last Thursday, the national team beat Qatar 3-0 in Malaysia, sitting third in the six-team Group A of Asian qualifying.

On last week's draw with Iran, Shin told reporters in Tashkent: "We're in a hard situation, but we'll beef up our mental strength and will win".

The omens were good: Iran had already finished top of the group, and gone through to Russian Federation 2018, so was playing for pride.

Syria looked to be heading out, but Omar Al Somah was Syria's hero as he pounced in the 93rd minute to salvage a point and rescue his country's World Cup dream, reports the BBC.

Syrian players and fans celebrate at the final whistle.

Wafi al-Bahsh, who runs a football club in Kafr Batna, in the rebel-run farming area of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus, said "sport and politics must be separated". For Syria to qualify for the tournament in Russian Federation, its chief global ally, it must beat Iran, its regional backer.

Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou will address the media at 10am on Wednesday morning.

"We will prepare for the World Cup thoroughly", he said in comments published by Yonhap news agency yesterday.

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