The fact that Syria went into their qualifying game with Iran with a chance to qualify for the World Cup was incredible in itself. Going into the game a win would guarantee a playoff place and a draw might be enough depending on the results in the game between South Korea and Uzbekistan.
On the day of the game, huge TV screens were put up in the capital, Damascus. People came together in the town squares to watch Syria open the game on the front foot and score the opening goal.
But then a goal from Sardar Azmoun just before halftime drew the sides level, before Iran’s goalscorer then got his second early in the second half to put the hosts in front. The clock was ticking and Syria were on the verge of being eliminated. With a goalless draw in South Korea, a draw for Syria would secure their place in the playoffs.
In almost the last move of the game, Al Somah received the ball on the edge of the area and drove his shot low towards the goal. The ball flew past the inside of the goalkeeper’s outstretched leg and nestled into the back of the net. The players in red jerseys with “Syria” rather than their names on the back of their shirts fell to their knees and jumped on one another. The Syrian commentator was clearly emotional and began to cry as the players and staff from the bench piled on the goalscorer.
Syria had made it to the World Cup playoffs.
The moment provided a flicker of joy in parts of a country that has been divided by six years of war. We always hear about the devastation and heartache that has affected Syria for those years. And it’s sometimes hard for us to imagine what those people must go through on a daily basis.
But last week thousands of fans spilled into the streets to celebrate their great sporting achievement. They were dancing and one fan was heard by the media saying it was the greatest day of his life. The beautiful game had made everyone forget, at least for a moment, all the conflict and sadness that has struck their country.
Syria will play Australia over two legs, and if they win they will be just one step away from the World Cup, taking on North and Central America’s fourth-best team in a final playoff.
The dream is alive.