After World Cup run, what next for Syria?

Published on: 13 October 2017

Kuala Lumpur: Syrian fans everywhere experienced a heartbreaking end to their fairytale when Omar Al Soma's last minute free-kick crashed off Matt Ryan's left post in Sydney on Tuesday night.

A goal at that moment in the second leg of the Continental Play-off against Australia would have seen Syria go through to a match-up with Honduras for a spot in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. 

So, with the World Cup dream now over, the question is: what comes next for Syria?

Looking ahead to UAE 2019

The immediate concern for the Syrian coaching staff in the near future will be to develop the squad further, leading up to the 2019 AFC Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates, which will witness their sixth appearance at the continental showpiece.

With the quality in the squad and the form they have shown during the FIFA World Cup qualifiers, Syria will look to at least reach the knockout stages of the AFC Asian Cup. In their five previous appearances, they have been unable to escape the Group Stage.

At the heart of the current team is undoubtedly Al Soma (above), whose importance cannot be overstated; the Al Ahli striker scored three times in his last four games since his return to the squad.

He took no time in bringing over his club form, which has seen him score a stunning 111 goals in 108 matches for the Jeddah-based side. It is likely that Al Soma will now take on the mantle of talismanic leader for his national team, too.

No dearth of talent

However, the team have been built on more than just Al Soma, as their form earlier in the qualifiers showed.

The likes of Omar Khribin, Mahmoud Al Mawas and Firas Al Khatib have been impressive too and this bodes well for Syria as they look ahead to the future. 

Like Al Soma, Khribin too has impressed while playing in Saudi Arabia.

The 23-year old looks set to conquer further ground with Al Hilal, for whom he has been in fine form, being a menace to defenders across the region in the AFC Champions League.

Al Mawas has been a prominent presence in the national set-up ever since coming to the fore with a six-goal show in the 2012 AFC U-19 Championship.

Currently plying his trade with Umm Salal in Qatar, Al Mawas also netted six times throughout the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification campaign.

As for Al Khatib, he is 34 years old and it is doubtful if he will be around for the Asian Cup, although he energised the Syrian team when he came on as a substitute in the first leg against Australia. 

When asked about his future with the national team after the game against Australia, Al Khatib expressed his hope of continuing.

"I am hopeful of that. If the coaches think Firas Al Khatib is capable of playing on, I will be available."

Even if the captain retires, the Syrian team is filled with young talent that could peak come 2019.

A number of them played in last year's AFC U-23 Championship in Qatar. This included, in addition to Khribin and Al Mawas, players like Moayad Ajan, Hamid Mido, Khaled Mobayed, Omar Midani, Amro Jenyat and Mahmoud Al Baher.

Maintaining the momentum

The World Cup dream may have ended in disappointment but Syrian football has not experienced such a good run of success in recent memory, at least not since Al Karamah wowed the continent in the past decade with their performances in the AFC Cup and the AFC Champions League. 

This year has seen another Damascus side - Al Wahda - make it to the latter stages of the AFC Cup, where they were only seconds away from reaching the final before being undone by a late goal. 

Defender Hadi Al Masri starred in Al Wahda's campaign while also appearing for the national team in the World Cup qualifiers.

For Al Masri, it was clear that the success of either team was rubbing off on each other. 

"These results will reflect on the Syrian national team," said Al Masri after a 2-1 win over Air Force Club in the first leg of their zonal final. "All the Syrian fans were supporting us. Al Wahda represent Syria, just like the national team. God willing, Syria will improve further and further."

With the upsurge in support among Syrian fans, it is now crucial for the team to maintain the momentum and build on what they have achieved until now.

A bigger test awaits in the United Arab Emirates in a little over a year's time but considering their recent performances, they will feel anything is possible.

Photos: Lagardère Sports