Against all odds: Syria’s 2018 World Cup qualifying game

Nader Durgham
Staff Writer

 

To everyone’s surprise, the Syrian National Football Team impressed the world by being on the verge of qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

 

Celebrations took place after striker Omar Al Somah scored an injury-time equalizer against Iran last Tuesday, ranking his team in third place within their group and keeping their hopes of qualifications alive.

 

This position means that Syria will have to face Australia in a two-leg round in October, with the winner being put up against the fourth-placed team from the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF).

 

Ever since their country plunged into a deadly conflict in 2011, Syrian football players suffered multiple heavy losses. The team lost its fundings, was banned by FIFA from playing in their home stadiums and had several of its players killed as a result of this conflict. They were on the verge of being disqualified from the 2018 World Cup had Malaysia not made a last-minute decision to host all of Syria’s ‘home’ games.

 

All of these burdens did not stop the players from fighting hard to achieve their goal. Their recent results, which include victories and draws against China, Uzbekistan and Qatar, gave their path a significant upturn which might lead them to the world’s most prestigious tournament.

 

“Our team is ready to achieve victory and qualify Syria for the first time to the World Cup,” said Team Administrator Muwaffaq Fathallah, in an interview with the Associated Press before their game against Iran.

 

“We want the Syrian people to be happy.” he added.

 

The team, also known as the Qasioun Eagles is indeed regaining their popularity amongst Syrians with their games being publicly screened in stadiums across Damascus and Aleppo. Their latest result was met with large-scale celebrations in the streets of both Syrian cities. However, this has garnered confusion amongst members of the opposition to the Syrian regime, as the team has previously expressed support for the government of Bashar Al Assad.

 

Some individuals believe that this surpasses politics, including opposition activist Ahmad Al-Masalmeh who openly encourages and follows the Eagles because this befits the nation as a whole. Despite this, others find that the football team represents Assad’s government and therefore refuse to show them support.

 

Securing a spot in the World Cup would be a historic achievement for Syria, whose players have historically never had a taste of international competition. The month of June saw them reach their highest FIFA ranking in Syrian football history, ranking 77th out of 211 associations.

 

The great team spirit and training that lead the Syrian team this far is giving millions of Syrians a reason to celebrate and enjoy their time, helping them momentarily forget about the ongoing conflict.

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