By Andrew Warshaw
October 6 – The dream, remarkably, is still alive. Striker Omar Al Somah blasted home an 85th-minute penalty to keep war-torn Syria in the hunt for World Cup qualification as they drew 1-1 draw with Australia in the first leg of their Asian Football Confederation playoff.
The result extended Syria’s unbeaten record in Malaysia, where they have been forced to play home fixtures, to seven games and leaves the tie delicately poised ahead of Tuesday’s second leg in Sydney.
Organised on a shoestring budget , ranked 75 in the world and destroyed by civil war, Syria’s Cinderella footballing story has captured the imagination worldwide.
They have not played a match on home soil since 2010 but critics say the euphoria over the current campaign masks atrocities of the Assad regime and are simply being used as a propaganda tool.
Yet in purely footballing terms the Syrians will be the sentimental favourites when they try to upset the odds against Ange Postecoglou’s team in the second leg to get one crucial step closer to sealing an historic maiden World Cup appearance, with another playoff against the fourth-placed side from the CONCACAF region still to come.
Australia, by contrast, are aiming for their fourth straight appearance in the finals.
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