Syria 1 - 1 Australia: match report
Syria’s World Cup dream remains alive after Omar Al-Somah scored a late penalty to seal a 1-1 draw against Australia. Robbie Kruse had opened the scoring in the first half for the Socceroos. Sydney will be the venue, and 10 October the date, as the two sides grapple for a spot in the next play-off round against the fourth-placed team from North America.
Syria had the wind of a fairy-tale story in their sails. The ‘Qasioun Eagles’ played this notional home leg of the tie in Malaysia, as a civil war continues to ravage the country. The political implications of their against-all-odds progression to within three matches of their first World Cup are complicated, with dictator Bashar al-Assad ostensibly taking advantage of the team’s success as a propaganda victory. Yet on the pitch, their achievements are nothing but admirable.
Syria travel to Australia for the second leg in the knowledge that they have the attacking potency to threaten Australia. Omar Kharbin and Omar Al-Somah floated around in attack, pulling yellow-shirted defenders from one side of the pitch to the other.
Mark Milligan, wearing the captain’s armband for the visitors, registered the first chance of the match after 20 minutes. The defensive midfielder seized on a loose ball 30 yards out, and rasped a shot towards goal with the outside of his boot. The Syrian ‘keeper, Ibrahim Alma, scurried across his line to prevent the ball rippling in to the corner.
Al-Somah twice provided for Kharbin from the right flank, but it was Robbie Kruse who opened the scoring for Australia five minutes before half time. The Vfl Bochum forward celebrated his 29th birthday by glancing Matthew Leckie’s fizzing cross in to the net from close range. It was a fitting time to score his first international goal since January 2015.
Australia continued to threaten in the second half. Tomi Juric had two chances to double his side’s lead in a five second spell that bore a greater resemblance to pinball than football. The lone striker slammed his first effort against the post, and then found the same piece of woodwork with the follow-up.
It proved to be a watershed moment in the match, as the momentum slid in Syria’s favour. Milos Degenek defended superbly for the visitors, first throwing himself in front of a cut-back to prevent Al-Somah scoring at the near post, and then stretching to get a crucial touch on a cross destined for Mahmoud Al Mawas.
The introduction of Firas Al Khatib was crucial. The stocky No. 10, with his shorts rolled high up his thighs, made an immediate impact, crossing for Al-Somah who drew a sensational reaction save from Matthew Ryan.
Al-Somah had to wait until the 85th minute to make his decisive impact. The striker, who recently returned to the national team after an exile induced by his political views, invited a rough challenge from Leckie in the box. The Iranian referee blew his whistle, and pointed invitingly to the spot. Al-Somah dusted himself off, and struck the penalty high in to the top-right corner.
"We're very confident,” said Australia captain Mark Milligan after the final whistle, “we will go home and get them on a good pitch in front of our home fans."
That is exactly how Syria like it. They embrace the underdog status that has taken them to within three matches of the 2018 World Cup.
Syria 1 - 1 Australia: as it happened
90'+5' Full time. The tie is finely poised ahead of the second leg in Australia.
90'+3' Al Khatib, who has changed the game since coming on, twists delightfully to spin away from Milligan and win a foul. He has the build and style of your typical, stocky Argentine playmaker.
90'+1' Ajan unleashes a smashing shot to that looks to be flying in to the top corner, until Ryan arrives at the last minute to tip it over. Australia clear the corner, and Al Soma's subsequent Delapian long throw. Syria are applying the pressure in the dying embers of this match.
90' The fourth official indicates five added minutes.
89' Rukavytska almost squeezes between the centre-halves and in to the box, but the linesman hoists his flag to signal a let-off for Syria.
87' Al Masri is booked for a cynical foul on Luongo on the right-flank. Mooy swings in a delighful cross, and Alma displays cat-like reactions to parry Sainsbury's downward header.
86' With around five minutes remaining, the momentum is in Syria's favour.
85' GOOOOOL! Al Soma tucks in to the top-right corner to draw Syria level!
84' Penalty to Syria! Al Soma shoved in the back by Leckie in the box, and the Iranian referee does not hesitate. Al Soma to take.
82' Rogic replaces Juric for Australia. There will be no more substitutions now, which is welcome, as they have upset the rhythm of the match in the last ten minutes.
80' The final Syrian change sees Mardikian trot on for Khribin.
79' And now, Leckie becomes the fourth player to have his name taken by the referee.
78' Khribin is booked, rather harshly, for a tackle on Leckie.
77' Al Soma hits the post! What a save from Ryan. He flails a desperate arm at the ball destined for the back of the net and tips it on to the post. It drops back down kindly for him to grasp tight to his chest. Al Soma holds his head in his hands and smiles ruefully.
75' Al Khatib, wearing the No. 10 shirt and with his shorts rolled up his thighs, takes the place of Al Mawas. He makes an immediate impression, running behind in the left channel before cutting in and chipping an inviting cross to the penalty spot.
71' Omar Khribin fizzes a ball across the six-yard box, but there are no red-shirted players there to apply the finishing touch. Al Mawas picks up possession on the left and dinks a pass back towards the danger-zone, where the Syrian forwards are all in offside positions.
70' Degenek contibutes another crucial defensive interception, this time getting a faint touch to a cross from the left, which prevented the ball finding Al Mawas at the back post. Syria are well on top at the moment.
69' Luongo replaces the goalscorer, Kruse.
68' Khribin's free-kick spins off the top of the wall, and with Ryan desperately wrong-footed, the ball falls just wide of the far corner. Syria deliver a couple of threatening corners to the near post, and the Socceroos scramble both clear.
66' Ajan wins a very soft free-kick on the byline, after Leckie eased him off the ball a little too enthusiastically. Ryan slaps it clear, but Sainsbury then fouls Al Mobayed 30 yards out to give Syria another set-piece chance.
65' Mooy's effort skims off the wall and behind for a corner. The same player trots over to deliver a cross, which is commandingly headed clear by a Syrian defender.
64' A clumsy challenge from Khribin on Milligan gifts Australia a free-kick in Aaron Mooy territory.
63' Australia make their first change of the match, with Rukavytska replacing Risdon.
61' Superb defending from Degenek. He tracks Al Soma's run to the near post, and dives in to intercept Al Mobayed's cross from the byline. A crucial intervention.
59' Al Soma drifts in to a dangerous position around the penalty spot, but Khribin's cross floats beyond his reach. As happened on so many occasions in the first half, the two attacking Omars have had good ideas in terms of combination, but have let themselves down with the execution.
58' Leckie allows the ball to run across his body 30 yards out, and both of his feet leave the turf as he arrows a shot towards the near post. It swirls just wide, drawing a thud from the advertisement hoarding.
57' The match has opened up in the second period, with Syria managing to combine more effectively in attack.
55' Aaron Mooy picks out a clever through ball for Leckie to run on to, but Alba sweeps well to hoof the ball clear on the bobbly pitch.
53' Khribin drifts out to the right and picks up the ball. He knocks it round one side of Jurman, and then dashes around the other. There are two players waiting in the box, but Khribin's cross sails behind both of them.
52' Degenek is booked for a trip on Al Mobayed as he skipped inside. The free kick finds Khribin at the far post, and Leckie does well to splay himself in front of the shot. Australia clear the subsequent corner.
50' Tomi Juric hits the post... twice! The striker beats Alma with a left-footed strike that cannons off the upright from just inside the box. The ball bounces back to him, and he hits this base of the same post. A remarkable let off for Syria.
48' There was a half-time change for Syria, with Al Jafal coming on in the place of Youssef Kalfa.
47' Al Mawas stings Ryan's palms with a strong shot from the edge of the box. The Syrian midfielder peeled in to space on the right side of the box, but he couldn't get the ball under his control in time to shoot across goal.
46' Syria get the second half going.
Australia have dominated possession in the first half, with 73% of the ball. Much of their play has gone through Huddersfield's Aaron Mooy.
45'+1' The Iranian referee end the first half with a shrill peep of his whistle. Advantage Australia.
45'+1' Milligan is booked for a cynical tug on Khribin, as the Syrian dangerman sought to spin away in the centre circle and launch a counter attack.
45' The fourth official's board flashes up to indicate one minute of added time.
44' Juric and Al Midani scrap for the ball on the touchline, and Australia emerge from the scuffle with a corner. 'Nooo!' screams the Syrian captain in disbelief at the linesman, but he trots back in to position as the visiting defenders come forward from the back. Matthew Leckie meets the corner and his header towards the far post floats over the bar.
43' 'It's all gone quiet over there,' sing the Australia fans. The Syrians respond by bursting in to song.
41' GOOOOOOL! Robbie Kruse turns Leckie's shot in to the net from close range for his first international goal since the start of 2015. Leckie went to the byline on the right-hand side of the box, before dipping back inside and shooting on his left foot. It may have been heading for the bottom corner, but Kruse made sure in any case.
38' Al Soma provides for Khribin once again. The No. 9 crosses from the right, and it looks to be curling behind Khribin. At the last minute, he contorts his body and attempts an acrobatic scissor kick to try and salvage something from a poor cross. His contact is shabby, and Ryan claims the ball for Australia.
36' Joshua Risdon is booked for an ugly challenge through the back of Al Mobayed. Syria have weathered the first wave of Australian pressure, and are now on the front foot.
35' Syria have the best chance of the match as Al Soma and Omar Khribin combine. The former twists and turns on the right to escape his marker, before whipping a low cross to the near post. Khribin is on the same wavelength and makes a darting run to the front post, but he flicks his effort narrowly wide.
34' Robbie Kruse is played in on goal, but a a sloppy first touch allows Al Masri to sneak in an win the foul.
33' Al Soma strays offside, again.
32' Mark Milligan holds the back of his ankle and winces. And not without reason; Youssef appeared to tread on his achilles as Milligan played the ball in the left-back position. Some subtle nastiness from Syria's No. 21.
29' Matthew Leckie has the goal gaping ahead of him after Joshua Risdon battled at the byline to win the ball and cut it back to his team-mate. Leckie leans back at the crucial moment and scoops his effort over the bar form 15 yards. Australia are beginning to turn the screw.
27' Al Soma completes his hat-trick of lazy offsides. The Syria No. 9, who plays his club football for Al Ahli, has intelligent movement, but his timing has been off.
23' Al Soma flexes his neck muscles and directs a strong header towards goal from Youssef's teasing, left-footed cross. He heads straight at Ryan, and in any case, the Australian defence stepped up well to play him offside.
21' Behich takes the ball down neatly on the left, but his low cut-back is easily read by Al Mobayed. The centre-half launches Syria forward on the counter attack, with Khribin galloping down the flank. He tries to switch the play to the right side, but yellow shirts nip in to take the ball. It's end-to-end stuff in Malaysia.
19' Mark Milligan curls an outside-of-the-boot effort towards goal from 30 yards. It dropped at the captain's feet after Youssef only half-cleared Mooy's cross. The shot is creeping in to the corner, but Alma shimmies across his line to claim it.
17' Australia burst free on the right flank with Tomi Juric. The visitors have a two-on-one advantage as Robbie Kruse points a hand to indicate where he wants the pass to be played, and dashes in to the box. Juric's pass is a little ahead of Kruse, who appeared to check his run at the crucial moment.
14' Robbie Kruse finds a pocket of space outside the box, but can't dance through a crowd of players to gain a clear sight of goal. Aaron Mooy floats a long ball over the heads of the midfield, and in towards Tomi Juric. The pass is a touch too heavy and it scuttles through to the 'keeper. Australia are not afraid to mix their play up, at times favouring possession, and at others the counter-attack.
13' The first yellow card of the march is wielded towards Syria centre-half Khaled Al Mobayed. His crime was a scything challenge on Mark Milligan. Syria's big No. 20 offers few complaints.
12' The two teams have been evenly poised in the opening stages. Aaron Mooy and Mark Milligan are yet to grasp control of the midfield.
10' Youssef Kalfa goes for the 'bull in a china shop' approach out on the right wing, barging in to various yellow shirts as if he were in the middle of a mosh-pit, before emerging with the ball and charging forwards. His touch is a little heavy, allowing Jurman to regain possession for the visitors.
9' Syria have set up in a 4-4-2 formation with Al Soma and Omar Khribin leading the line. The attacking pair are harrying the Australian defence high up the pitch.
6' Free-kick for Syria on the edge of the box, in prime shooting territory. Youssef floated a delectable ball through to Khribin, who was dragged down by the Socceroos' right-back, Degenak. Al Soma, a big bustling target man, thrashes his shot in to the wall from the set-piece, and it eventually runs out for a goal kick after a couple of richochets in the box.
4' A bit of 'extra-curricular activity' on the touchline, as Aziz Behich shoves Al Mawas to the ground just outside the technical areas. He wanted the ball quickly to take a throw-in, and was absolutely unwilling to wait. The referee calms the situation, but keeps his cards safely tucked in to his pocket.
3' Australia have an early free-kick, just outside the box on the right-hand side. Aaran Mooy of Huddersfield whips the ball towards debutant centre-half Matthew Jurman at the far post, but he is penalised for climbing all over his marker.
2' Al Masri panics as Tomi Juric flashes a low cross in to the box. The Syria No. 2 slices his clearance, forcing the 'keeper, Ibrahim Alma, to rush out and smother the ball.
1' Australia get proceedings underway and settle in to a spell of possession. The pitch is looking bobbly.
The seating pattern at the Hang Jebat Stadium looks like a 1990s goalkeeper strip. I like it.
The Syrian players give themselves a motivational clap as the final words of their national anthem sound out. Just the handshakes to go, and we'll be underway.
The flags come out, and the players are following them as the FIFA music pumps out through the speakers.
The teams are out for their warm-ups. It's not a big crowd, but both sets of fans are making themselves heard. A sizeable proportion of the Australian fans appear to be wearing some rather garish green and yellow glittery wigs.
Australia have been shaky on the road during this qualifying campaign. The Socceroos only won once in five away matches, and it was that poor streak away from home that cost them automatic qualification to the 2018 World Cup.
Syria XI: Alma, Al-Masri, Ajan, Khribin, Al-Mawas, Al-Soma, Kalfa, Haj Mohamad, Medani, Mobayed, Youssef.
Australia XI: Ryan; Degenek, Sainsbury, Jurman; Risdon, Milligan, Mooy, Behich; Leckie, Kruse; Juric.
Team news ahoy!
Syria are playing their home matches in Malaysia as a civil war continues to ravage the country. Despite that, they have made themselves at home in the Hang Jebat Stadium, losing just once there in qualifying (a 0-3 defeat to Japan).
This will be the first meeting between Syria and Australia. The Socceroos only joined the Asian Football Confederation in 2005, so there have been limited opportunities for the two sides to face up against each other. Prior to that, Australia competed in the Oceana Football Confederation, but the general feeling Down Under was that they needed to break away in order to progress.
Syrian fans getting behind their side .....
Nothing is impossible in football is both the strapline from a recent Adidas marketing campaign but also the sentiment of Syrian national team coach Ayman al-Hakim ahead of the Australia play-off game. "Reaching the Asian play-off is almost a miracle, no one expected us to reach this stage given the tough circumstances we face in our country,".
Hello and welcome to our live coverage of the first leg of the Asian Confederation World Cup play-off game as Syria face Australia. The game is being staged in Malyisia with the ongoing unrest in the Arab state. Kick off at the Hang Jebat Stadium in Krubong is at 1430 CEST.
Syria vs Australia: preview
Syria face Australia in the first leg of their regional play-off, with the teams four matches away from reaching the 2018 Russia World Cup. The match will take place in Malaysia as a civil war continues to ravage Syria, the notional home team.
Syria have defied expectations to reach this stage of qualification, securing hard-fought draws against Iran and South Korea along the way, as well as victories over China, Uzbekistan, and Qatar. While Syria are elated to have progressed so far, Australia would have liked to have confirmed their place in Russia already. The Socceroos, who have qualified for the last three tournaments, missed out on automatic qualification with an inferior goal difference to Saudi Arabia.
The winner of this two-legged tie will go through to another two-legged qualifier against the fourth-placed team in the CONCACAF section. As things stand, that would mean a match against the United States.
"There is no impossible in football," said Syria coach Ayman al-Hakim. The fact that the Qasioun Eagles have navigated their way to within four matches of the 2018 World Cup is testament to the unpredictability of the sport.
Their progress is heart-warming on a sporting level, yet as Bashar al-Assad and his regime support the team and benefit from their successes, the political implications of their victories are murkier. Al-Assad remains in power in Syria despite the civil war that has killed over 320,000 people.
Firas al-Khatib and Omar al-Soma have returned to the national team this year after spending time in footballing exile as a result of their political views. Al-Soma is one of the most dangerous strikers in Asian football, and the 28-year-old is in a particularly rich vein of form for Al Ahli. Syria also boast Omar Khribin, who scored a hat-trick in Al Hilal's Asian Champions League victory over Persepolis.
"We hope to fulfil the dream of reaching the World Cup. It's the dream of every Syrian, every member of our team, whether the players, coaches, officials," continued al-Hakim. The dream is now within touching distance.
Midfielder James Troisi has declared that Australia are "quietly confident" of progressing to the next stage of qualification.
The Socceroos are the strong favourites, but will be without their captain, Mile Jedinak. The Aston Villa midfielder is out through injury, which may see coach Ange Postecoglou bring 37-year-old veteran Tim Cahill come in to the starting line-up in a more advanced position.
"We really want to dictate the game tomorrow and dominate the ball and win, then take them back to Australia in a few days and finish the job off properly," said Cahill, who now plies his trade with Melbourne City.
Australia have not missed out on World Cup qualification since the 2002 tournament in Korea on Japan. They had to navigate a play-off against Uruguay in to qualify for the following festival of football in Germany, so have experience of these high-pressure occasions.
Syria vs Australia live stream online: odds and betting
Feeling nostalgic? Tim Cahill is 8/1 to open the scoring, and it will probably be with a header.