Syria, a nation mired by six years of a devastating civil war, clinched a 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia playoff place, courtesy of a dramatic 93rd-minute equalizer that earned a 2-2 draw against Iran in Tehran.
Striker Omar Al Somah netted a stoppage time leveler to ensure the war-torn nation grabbed 3rd place in their Asia World Cup qualifying Group A and therefore a playoff place for next summer’s tournament.
In the final qualifying match, Syria had been trailing hosts Iran 2-1 despite going 1-0 ahead by virtue of a Tamer Haj Mohamad goal, the midfielder poking home after a free kick was spilled by the Iranian keeper, Beiranvand.
Then two goals either side of halftime from Sardar Azmoun, who plays his club football in Russia for Rubin Kazan, canceled out Haj Mohamad’s goal and returned advantage to the home side.
As the game wore on, it looked as though Syria would fall agonizingly short of a chance of World Cup qualification, an improbable dream for the troubled Arab republic.
That was until the third minute of stoppage time, when Syria surged forward with Mardik Mardikian, who played the ball through to Al Somah on the right side of the penalty area.
From a tight angle, the Syria No. 9 squeezed the ball through the legs of Beiranvand. The ball hit the back of the net. Al Somah wheeled away to celebrate.
As Al Somah sank to his knees, his teammates rushed onto the field from the bench to join him in celebration of the goal, which symbolized a catharsis for a country still very much suffering the harrowing effects of a conflict that has raged since 2011.
Football fans around the world reacted in unanimous celebration for the Syrian side, who had defeated the odds to keep their Russia 2018 dream alive for at least a little longer.
The achievement is made even more remarkable by the fact the conflict in their home country has prevented the team from playing any home games on home soil since 2010, so they have instead taken place in Malaysia – 7,000 kilometers away.
Syria gained third spot on goal difference at the expense of Uzbekistan, who were held to a 0-0 draw against the Republic of Korea [South Korea] in Tashkent. Although both finished with 13 points, Syria’s goal difference was two ahead of Uzbekistan’s.