(Soccer World Cup qualifiers) Syria dream run ends

Sports | Oct 11, 2017 10:42
Omar al-Soma's free kick crashed into the post with moments to go, ending Syria's World Cup hopes and allowing Tim Cahill's Australians to squeeze into the final playoff for a spot in Russia. 
The 37-year-old Cahill delivered again for Australia with both goals in a 2-1 extra-time win over Syria on Tuesday that clinched the Asian playoff series 3-2 on aggregate. 
The Australians will next play a home-and-away series in November against CONCACAF side Honduras, which finished in fourth place in the North and Central America and Caribbean qualifying group. The winner of that series qualifies for Russia. 
Syria's chances grew after they took a 1-0 lead in the return match after al-Soma's goal in the 6th minute, but Cahill's headers in the 13th minute and in extra time secured Australia's place in a playoff next month against the fourth-place team from North and Central America. 
But for a matter of inches, it could have been Syria striker al-Soma getting all the accolades. After returning to the national team from a self-imposed five-year absence amid the war in his country, al-Soma played a vital role in Syria's surge to third spot in the third round of Asian qualifying _ including the late equalizer against Iran in the last game which set up the playoff series against Australia. 
He converted an 85th-minute penalty last week to secure the draw in Malaysia, and he opened the scoring in the return leg to silence a parochial 42,136 crowd at Sydney's Olympic stadium. The crowd was silent again when al-Soma stepped up in the last minute of extra time with a chance to make it 2-2 _ a result that would have allowed Syria to advance to the next stage on away goals _ but his free kick missed by the narrowest of margins with keeper Mat Ryan beaten. 
The crowd burst into victorious chants and celebrations. But the outcome stunned millions of Syrians watching the broadcast.
The Syrian team has been on a remarkable run despite being forced to play all its games in other countries.
Syria coach Ayman al-Hakim was full of praise for his team.
With the score locked at 1-1 and an hour gone, Hakim sent in star playmaker Firas al-Khatib to create the goal-scoring chance. Al-Khatib created opportunities almost immediately, but the Australians also wasted chances and forced good saves from inspirational goalkeeper Ibrahim Alma to ensure the match was still 1-1 at the end of regulation time. 
It took another run from Cahill, striking his 50th international goal from Robbie Kruse's cross to finally give Australia the edge, as he has so often has in an international career spanning 103 games.-AP

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September 2018