Malacca: Syria midfielder Mahmoud Al Mawas made headlines last October when his goal secured a stunning upset in the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 Asian Qualifiers as the West Asians defeated China 1-0 in Xian.
That 54th minute strike at Shaanxi Stadium was the highlight in what has been a series of key contributions by the 24-year-old to his nation’s progression into the upper echelons of Asian football.
And, as the-AFC.com found out ahead of Thursday’s visit of Uzbekistan in Group B, the man from Hama City is determined to go all the way to Russia 2018.
“The dream of any player in Asia is to qualify for the World Cup and to have made it to the final stage of qualifying is very important and good for Syria,” says Mahmoud Al Mawas.
“We are working on our dream to qualify for the finals and we know it is difficult but perhaps we can make it. Nothing is impossible, but it is difficult.
“We will treat each match as the final because every team in the group is strong.”
Recently turned 24 years of age, the Syrian winger represents a new generation of young, exciting players to have broken into the national team in recent years.
Alongside the likes of Osama Omari, Moayad Al Ajan, Hamid Mido and the ever-dangerous Omar Khribin, speedy Al Mawas is part of what looks like the core of the Syrian team in years to come.
“In the team, a lot of my colleagues are under 23 or 24 years of age,” he says.
“We will continue to play and improve with instructions from our head coach to help the national team advance in all competitions.
“In a way, it is easy for us since we are already professional players and playing outside Syria. We know how to take instructions and [follow the game plan].”
While the winger is now one of the first names on coach Ayman Hakeem’s team sheet, his father was initially against him picking football as a career.
“I started to play football when I was seven years old, at an academy team attached to the Ommal Hama team before moving to Al Karamah,” he recalls.
“My father at first refused to let me be a football player since the sport is not very important in Syria. Few players had professional contracts and the money was not good.
“It was just a sport, an activity and for that reason, my father was against it. He wanted me to study and become a doctor or an engineer.”
Luckily for Syrian football fans, Al Mawas’ natural talent shone through as he earned rave reviews at his first couple of clubs.
“When I started playing for Al Karamah and earned my first professional contract, my father began to realise that I was a very good player,” he continues.
“He started to like the idea of me playing football and even started driving me to training just about every day from Hama City to Al Karamah Sports Club, which was in another city 40 kilometres away!
“That was when he changed his mind and started hoping that I would become a successful football player.”
Following a three-year stint at Kuwait’s Al Arabi, during which time Al Mawas enjoyed loan spells in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, the Syrian joined Qatar’s Umm Salal after a short period at Bahrain’s Al Muharraq.
“Every Arab player dreams to play professional football in Europe with a top club but my focus now is on helping the national team qualify for the World Cup. That is the ultimate dream,” he says.
The boy who grew up idolising Brazilian footballer Ronaldo and watching the World Cup on a small television at home has come a long way.
Photos: FIFA/Getty Images, AFP, Lagardère Sports