Thu, Sep 07, 2017 - Page 16 News List

FIFA: Scrappy Syria draw with Iran to move into playoffs

AFP, TEHRAN

Omar Al Soma’s stoppage-time equalizer on Tuesday took war-torn Syria into Asia’s FIFA World Cup playoffs, as South Korea and Saudi Arabia both booked their spots at next year’s tournament.

Syria were 2-1 down against Iran and heading out when Al Soma threaded his shot through goalkeeper Alireza Salimi’s legs in the third added minute, sparking wild celebrations.

The 2-2 draw means Syria, who have defied the odds while civil war rages in their country, now face Australia home and away, with the winner going into an intercontinental playoff.

On the final night of Asia’s qualifying group games, South Korea drew 0-0 with Uzbekistan to reach their ninth straight World Cup, while Saudi Arabia joined them with a 1-0 win over Japan.

Fahad Al Muwallad’s thunderous winner in Jeddah qualified hosts Saudi Arabia for their fifth World Cup, snatching the second automatic spot in Group B — and relegating Australia to the playoffs.

South Korea, Saudi Arabia and already-qualified Japan and Iran will now hope to improve on Asia’s disappointing 2014 World Cup, when no team from the region reached the knockout stage.

South Korea spurned several late chances before settling for the 0-0 draw in Uzbekistan, grabbing the second automatic berth in Group A as their heartbroken hosts missed out.

Syria’s heroics also extinguished China’s faint hopes of reaching only their second World Cup, despite snatching a 2-1 win over 2022 hosts Qatar thanks to Wu Lei’s late winner.

Earlier in Group B, Australia won 2-1 against Thailand, but they will rue their failure to score more as they missed out on an automatic place on goal difference.

The United Arab Emirates also saw their dream die when they lost 1-0 to Iraq to finish fourth in Group B.

However, there was jubilation in Tehran as Syria extended their dream run, after Tamer Mohamad and Al Soma became the only players to score past Iran in the final qualifying round.

Mohamad scored in the 13th minute before Iran equalized through Sardar Azmoun, who chested in a rebound on the stroke of halftime and then put the hosts ahead in the 64th minute.

Al Soma’s heart-stopping goal had one Syrian team official in tears before the players hugged and celebrated at the final whistle.

“God willing we will continue the journey... The qualifications have started again,” Al Soma said. “The players were heroes on the pitch from the first minute until the last minute.”

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