Monday 25 September 2017, 21:36

Age no obstacle for Syria’s Al Masri

  • Hadi Al Masri made his Syria debut at the age of 30

  • He has now won seven caps for his country

  • Syria face Australia in an Asian zone World Cup qualifying play-off in October

When players turn 30, they are generally at their peak and their thoughts begin to turn to the years they have left in the game. In the case of thirty-something Hadi Al Masri, however, the Syrian's career seems to have only just begun.

Last September, just three months after celebrating his 30th birthday, Al Masri received his first call-up to the national team on the back of some fine performances for Bahrain Club in the Bahraini Premier League.

An unused substitute for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying matches against China PR and Qatar in October 2016, Al Masri made his debut from the bench in a friendly against Singapore the very next month, a game the Syrians won 2-0.

Delighted to be a part of the Syria set-up, Al Masri spoke to “I’m 31 but full of ambition, just like any other player, no matter their age. There have been a lot of players around the world who’ve kept on playing top-level football after turning 35 and even 40.

“I’m so happy to be representing my country,” he added. “Before, I just wanted to play for Al Wahda and make the national team. But now, I’m setting my ambitions higher with Syria: I’m giving my all to help the team make it to the World Cup.”

Since Al Masri made his international debut, his career has continued to take an upward curve. After coming on as a substitute in the draw against Iran, the defender was named in the starting line-up for the March meeting with Korea Republic, and then featured in the draw with China PR and the win over Qatar.

A star performer for Syrian club Al Wahda in this year’s AFC Cup, Al Masri added: “I’ve now made seven appearances for Syria and I’ve been up to the job. I couldn’t have done it without the support of the fans and I hope I can keep it up in the future.”

Al Masri turned in a fine performance against Iran in their last match of the third round of Asian zone Russia 2018 qualifiers, as the Qasioun Eagles booked their place in the AFC play-off against reigning Asian champions Australia in October. The winners of the two-leg tie will then progress to the intercontinental play-off versus the fourth-placed side from the final qualifying round in the CONCACAF zone.

Looking back on the performance of Ayman Hakeem’s side so far in the qualifiers, Al Masri said: “Syria are enjoying the best period in their history. In the last match , we played away against really tough opponents, a team regarded as the best in Asia. We were also the only side to score against the Iranians in the third round.”

A stronger unit Syria’s impressive Russia 2018 qualification campaign is down to the return of several key players, among them Firas Al Khatib and Omar Al Somah, who have strengthened the front line, as Al Masri confirmed: “We’ve got some great results lately thanks to players like Omar Al Somah and Firas Al Khatib coming back into the side. We were having problems in attack and they’ve sorted them out.”

With Syria now into the play-offs, Al Masri faces a whole new mission: how to blunt the Australian attack, one of the best in the Asian qualifiers, during which it has racked up 45 goals in 18 matches to date.

Undaunted by the offensive strengths of the Socceroos, Al Masri is determined to push on and help his country qualify for next year’s world finals in Russia.

“We’re going to analyse Australia and their tactics, just like we did for Iran,” he said. “They’re a good side but I don’t think they’re any better than the Iranians. We’ve going to give it everything we have, both in training and the two matches to come, so that we can get the better of our next opponents.

“We promise the Syria fans, who’ve done so much to help us and who’ll be by our side on 5 October, that we’ll try all we can to match Australia and make it to the World Cup.”

Having embarked on his dream journey last November, Al Masri is hoping it can continue, with just 360 minutes of football now separating Syria from a historic World Cup debut.