Syria 1 - 1 Australia: as it happened, goals, match report
A late penalty from Omar Al-Somah secured a draw for Syria in the first leg of their World Cup qualifier play-off against the Socceroos, for whom Kruse had scored.
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 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.
Find out how and where to watch Syria vs Australia.
"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.
"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.
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