You Can Destroy Their Country But Not Their Passion

One moment of joy might have been exactly what many Syrians needed after 7 years of pain, but who thought that this moment would come on the 93rd minute of a football game?

A team with no internationally recognised players representing a country torn apart by a war inflamed by foreign intervention and armies of radical fighters. A team that has lost players as a result of the conflict and has been forced to play their home games in distant Malaysia. Despite this, they still stand a chance to qualify for their first ever World Cup finals in history.

Back home in Syria, the pursuit of a place at the World Cup in Russia 2018 has provided a flicker of joy in parts of a country divided by seven years of war. Big screens were erected in public squares in the capital Damascus and other Syrian cities for public screenings and fans also packed into coffee shops and sports halls to watch the broadcast from Iran. Thousands of dancing fans filtered on to the streets chanting Syria and waving the country’s flags afterwards, bringing traffic to a complete halt in the city centres.

Syria’s game against Iran that ended with a miraculous draw achieved by Omar al-Souma, who has marked his return to the team after a five-year, turned the whole country upside down.

“This is the happiest day of my life,” said Bashir Rahal, a 26-year old, who was watching the game in a Damascus hotel, with the country’s flag on a table in front of him.

Outside, the skies lit up with pyrotechnics, some launching red tracers above the thousands of revellers who filled the streets, leaning out of their car windows or marching in the city centre. The upbeat news came on the same day troops reached Deir-Ezzour, in eastern Syria, breaking a 4-year-old siege on the city by Islamic State militants.
“There are two victories today: the army entered Deir-Ezzour and we equalized with Iran, which I consider a victory,” said Fayeq Shmais, a 46-year-old government employee. “Syria is witnessing a revival as large rallies roam the streets of Damascus. This is something we have not seen since the start of the crisis.”

Omar Al Somah scored the biggest goal in Syrian football history to secure a draw against Iran and send the war-torn country into the World Cup play-offs. Syrian football team still have a job on their hands if they are to be one of the 32 countries competing at the 2018 World Cup. They first must beat Australia and then one of USA, Honduras or Panama to reach the first World Cup finals in their history.

Syria is in the middle of a seven-year war and the team has no money because of the sanctions. Lots of Syrians have mixed emotions about supporting the team. Some, but by no means all, feel that the team rises above politics. Syrian social media pages on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other networks have completely been obsessed with this tiny spark of hope since September 4th, and now their eyes are on October as they still have two games to go there. The fact they are in contention for the World Cup is remarkable given what is stacked against them and they have a remarkable team spirit.

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