DAMASCUS – Exactly a month after the Syrian national team’s hopes of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup were denied when a shot hit a post, the players’ love for their war-torn country still drove them to train Friday ahead of an upcoming friendly match against Iraq.
With his squad preparing for the friendly, Fadi Dabas, Vice-President of the Syrian Football Association, had his mind set on achieving success at the 2019 AFC Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates.
Dabas told EFE during a training session at the Tishreen Stadium in Damascus that his squad was excited despite the war that has ravaged Syria since 2011.
After defeating Iran and South Korea, the Syrian team started to dream of qualifying for the World Cup for the first time, but they fell short following a defeat against Australia in a qualifying playoff on Oct. 10.
During the qualifier, the Syrian team had to choose a location for their home games due to the sanctions imposed on Damascus.
Dabas said a lot of Arab countries denied the Syrian players visas, but the team was eventually offered a chance to use Malaysia as its home base.
Now focused on the upcoming friendly with Iraq, Syrian fans, many of them young people, continued to come out in support of the team.
At a recent practice session, supporters held two giant posters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad.
Neither fans nor players seemed to be perturbed when they heard explosions and projectiles hitting areas near the stadium.
Dabas said that some players competed in leagues abroad, while others played in the local one, which he considered to be “one of the best” in the region.
During six years of conflict, the Syrian league has not been suspended, even when there were just two teams competing: Lattakia and Damascus.
Defender Ahmed al-Saleh, 28, left Syria in 2011, playing in Kuwait, Iraq and Bahrain before joining the Chinese Super League earlier this year.
He said that if politics separated people, soccer brought them back together with love for their national team.