Syria Pursuit of Soccer History Alive After Draw With Ally Iran

  • Syria now faces home and away series against Australia
  • National team hasn’t been able to play at home due to war

Syria players in action against China in June.

Photographer: Stanley Chou/Getty Images

War-torn Syria kept its chances of a first-ever soccer World Cup finals qualification alive after an injury time goal earned it a draw with battlefield ally Iran.

Finishing third in its group means Syria now faces a home and away series next month against Australia. If it eventually emerges as the winner, it would enter an intercontinental playoff in November. It took a 93rd-minute goal in Tehran to secure a 2-2 tie with Iran, one of two nations whose support has enabled forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad to gain an upper hand in the country’s six-year conflict.

Syria’s soccer team celebrates in Tehran, Sept. 5.

Photographer: Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images

Qualification would be a striking achievement for a squad that can’t play at home due to the war and whose members are vetted by the government. Associated Press reported that while the national team is made up of government-approved supporters, at least one player -- striker Firas al-Khatib -- was an opposition activist during a period of exile.

And in another twist, Assad’s other key supporter in a conflict that’s left about 400,000 people dead is Russia -- host of next year’s competition.

“This dream will certainly come true and we will reach the World Cup,” said one man interviewed by Syrian television in Latakia, a western Assad stronghold, before Tuesday’s match. Twitter users shared pictures of the squad using an Arabic hashtag which translates as #Yes_We_Can.

Syria has played its “home” qualification games in Malaysia, a blow for Assad who’s attempting to portray life in territory controlled by his government as returning toward normalcy. Damascus last month hosted its first international trade fair in five years.

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