Thursday 23 June 2016, 09:58

Syria defying circumstances to climb high

The last few years have not been easy for Syria. The shadow of the civil war that has raged since 2011 looms large over every aspect of Syrian life, including football, which is a source of joy for many of the country’s inhabitants.

Against all odds, however, the national team have been making major strides. After triumphing at the West Asian Football Federation Championship in 2012, the Qasioun Eagles have confirmed that Syrian football is on an upward trajectory by putting in some excellent displays in the second round of the Asian qualifying campaign for the 2018 FIFA World Cup™.

In March 2015, Syria sat in 152nd place in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking – the lowest position in their history. But a series of remarkable results over the past 15 months, including those achieved in qualifying matches for Russia 2018, have propelled them up to 101st spot in the rankings table for June - their highest berth since 2011.

Syria’s six victories in Group E in the second round of qualifying, against Singapore, Afghanistan and Cambodia, were crucial in their climb up the rankings in the past few months. Their midfielder, Abdelrazaq Al-Hussain, spoke to about the importance of those wins, against the backdrop of internal conflict.

“Syria surprised everyone in the qualifiers, when you take into account the current situation in the country,” he said. “Our positive results played a role in the impressive progress that we’ve made in the rankings table. Those wins came down to determination, strong performances from the players who play abroad, and the continuation of the domestic league despite all the problems.”

Upcoming challenges Syria will get the chance to continue their rise up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking in September, when they lock horns with Iran, Korea Republic, Uzbekistan and Qatar in Group A of the third round of Russia 2018 qualifiers.

After kicking off the final part of the Asian campaign by taking on Uzbekistan in Tashkent, they will play Korea Republic in Beirut five days later. Given the present security concerns in Syria, the Lebanese capital was selected to host all of their remaining 'home' qualifying matches.

“All of the teams that have qualified for the third round are strong, although some are better than others,” continued Al-Hussain. “To be honest, our team is capable of upsetting anyone, as long as we prepare well. We have to arrange several friendlies against high-quality opponents, to get rid of the inferiority complex we have when we play the Iranians and Koreans, the big teams in the group.”

The 29-year-old, who took part in the FIFA U-20 World Cup Netherlands 2005, concluded: “Our current team has a mix of youth and experience. There’s a good balance, but we have to prepare better – we need to have proper training camps to enhance squad unity. I hope that we can continue to improve our ranking. Good results help to develop the team, despite the difficult times we are all going through.”