By Paul Nicholson
August 31 – With 2018 World Cup qualifiers starting this week, Syria, who have made it through to the final group stage of Asian Football Confederation (AFC) qualification, have been informed by the Macau FA that they will not now be able to host their ‘home’ matches.
Syria open their campaign tomorrow (September 1) against Uzbekistan in the Bunyodkor Stadium, Tashkent. On September 6 they were due to play their home game against Korea Republic at the Macau Olympic Stadium in Macau. Syria play all their matches outside of the country because of the obvious dangers imposed by the conflict.
Syria are now left scrambling to find a country and venue that will host their qualifier at very short notice. In the past Syria have played national team U23 ‘home’ games in Qatar but Qatar are drawn in the same group as the Syrians and they play have a qualifying fixture against Uzbekistan in Doha on the same day Syria are scheduled to play Korea.
Syria are also drawn against Iran and China in Group A, but do not play their next qualifying match until October 11 against Qatar away. Their next scheduled home match is against Iran on November 15. Syria had arranged to play their five home qualifying matches in Macau.
Local Macau press is reporting the threat of terrorism as the reason for pulling out of acting as hosts, but it is unclear to what degree a real threat exists as Macau is an administrative region of China.
Syria, who played their last round home qualifying matches in Oman finished runners-up in their group behind Japan and advanced to the Final Round of qualifiers as the second-ranked. They beat Afghanistan, Cambodia, and Singapore on their way.
The World Cup 2018 campaign marks the first time Syria have participated in the final round of FIFA World Cup qualifiers since losing 3-1 on aggregate to Iraq in the campaign to reach the 1986 finals in Mexico.
The 12 teams in this third qualifying round are divided into two groups of six with the top two teams in each group qualifying for Russia 2018. The third placed teams in each group will go through to a further play-off with the winner going through to the inter-confederation play-offs.
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