Krubong (Malaysia): A penalty successfully converted by Omar Kharbin in the dying minutes of the game gave Syria a vital 1-0 win over Uzbekistan that the war-torn country’s team needed to keep alive its hopes of advancing towards the 2018 football World Cup finals in Russia.
Kharbin’s spot-kick, taken in the first minute of the second half’s injury time, beat veteran Uzbek goalkeeper Aleksandr Lobanov and raised a cheer among 23 million Syrians still in the war-ravaged nation on Thursday, reports Efe.
“We want to put a smile on Syrian faces,” said the 23-year-old forward, who like 4.3 million refugees has had to make a life for himself away from his native soil.
But Kharbin is a lucky one, as he plays in Saudi Arabia for Al-Hilal, one of the Middle East’s most well-known teams.
He is also well-remunerated compared to fellow teammates who have been conscripted by the army.
A player in Syria’s league earns some $200 a month, which constitutes good pay in the Middle Eastern country.
Kharbin avoided being called up for service in the army of President Bashar Hafez al-Assad’s forces by virtue of being an only child, something that disqualifies him from being drafted.
One of the problems of being a war zone is that Syria is not able to play its home games within its own borders.
Hence, Thursday’s crucial match was played at the Hang Jebat Stadium in Krubong, Malaysia, a faraway country that has welcomed the squad and given them a “home”.
The win is Syria’s second in the group stage, the previous victory was against China, a magnificent effort away at Beijing in a country that has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a much-hoped-for footballing future.
This places Syria fourth in the standings, and with six games played, it has rekindled hopes that the battle-weary country can qualify for a regional playoff.
If the team overcomes that hurdle, it could then face teams from North or Central America or the Caribbean for a berth in the finals.
The squad, coached by Ayman Hakeem, had taken its task seriously and flown into Malaysia almost a week early to try and overcome jet lag and also get used to the nearly-tropical equatorial weather.
Syria’s home away from home has suited them so far, with opponents Uzbekistan, South Korea and Iran failing to score there.
Despite years of military strife, Syria retains a deep love for soccer and on Thursday its embattled population had something to cheer about.