But Syria, a country wrecked by domestic conflict, is the one that will dominate headlines as they complete a fairy tale trip to Russia in 2018.
It’s a First for Syria
Syria has made world history by managing to make the World Cup qualifying playoffs for the first time. Their overall performance has been exemplary and they are are set to face off against Australia, who did not manage to qualify automatically for the first time since 2011, over two legs in October, and this will establish who is going to be progressing to the playoff finals against the team who finishes fourth in the Central and North American group, where the American team currently sits.
The Odds Were Stacked Against Them
The country that has been so devastated by continuous conflict can book qualification automatically if they managed to win in their away game against Iran, but, as any punter who enjoys the sports betting NZ offers would have been able to tell you immediately, the odds were stacked against them. Iran is 56 places higher up than the Syrians in the FIFA world rankings, and stand as the highest-ranked team in Asia. They have not conceded even one goal in their previous 12 qualifying matches.
That’s why Omar Al Somah’s dramatic equalising score was such a shock! Somah was playing for the Syrian soccer team for the first time since he got barred five years ago after he came out in support of the rebellion, and managed to clinch the 2 – 2 draw, with what was in fact the last kick of the game. His whole team, and the fans that had turned out to support them, were sent into raptures, and the commentator burst into tears of joy!
An Eagerly Anticipated Match
In Syria, the match had been very keenly anticipated: the government erected big screens in public areas throughout Homs, Aleppo and Damascus, and many fans streamed out to watch the game, waving Syrian flags and chanting the name of their country throughout play.
This historic match, under the burden of both political and sporting intrigue, was against a nation whose military aid to the Assad regime had been a decisive factor in Syria’s civil war. The result means that Syria will finish ahead of Qatar and China, two countries who have heavily invested in soccer in recent years –by contrast, the trade sanctions that have been placed on the Syrians means that their football has received no funding whatsoever.
A Richly Deserved Fairy Tale Finale
It was an astonishing ending to the group stages of a qualifying campaign in which the Syrians have not been able to play for their local fans, undergoing instead a 10 000-mile round-trip to Malaysia for all their home matches. It is here that they will play the first leg of their playoffs with Australia on the 5th of October 2017.