Syria came from behind to secure a 1-1 draw against Australia in their Asian World Cup qualifying playoff first-leg match in Malaysia.
The Syrians found themselves 1-0 down at the Hang Jebat Stadium in Krubong when Robbie Kruse struck from close range for the Socceroos towards the end of the first half.
Syria were not deterred, however, and showed the fighting spirit that has epitomised their World Cup campaign by battling back to claim a draw when Omar Al Soma converted an 85th-minute penalty, which he had won after being fouled by Australia’s Mathew Leckie.
The two teams now play the second leg in Sydney on Tuesday, with Syria’s remarkable bid to reach next year’s FIFA World Cup finals in Russia still very much alive.
The Australians went into Thursday’s first-leg game as heavy favorites, having been top scorers in Asian qualifying and aiming to reach their fourth successive World Cup finals.
Syria are aiming to qualify for their first-ever World Cup finals, and have been forced to play their home games in Malaysia due to the ongoing conflict in their homeland.
Throughout their campaign they have won the hearts of fans all around the world with their remarkable spirit, and set up the two-legged playoff against the Socceroos thanks to a last-gasp equalizer in their final group stage game against Iran in September.
That result sparked wild celebrations in Damascus, and gave the war-torn nation cause to celebrate after years of suffering.
Syria will remain underdogs going into Tuesday’s return leg against Australia in Sydney, and the winners of that game still need to negotiate an intercontinental playoff against a team from the CONCACAF qualifying groups.
However, with Thursday’s result the Syrians have given themselves a fighting chance of progressing to Russia next summer.