2018 World Cup qualifiers: Syria to play home leg of play-off in Malaysia

Match, which will go some way to deciding who keeps alive bid to reach Russia next summer, has to be played at neutral venue given political situation in Syria.

Syria's soccer team celebrates after scoring a goal against Iran during their Round 3 - Group A World Cup qualifier at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. The match draw 2-2. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
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The home leg of Syria’s World Cup play-off against Australia has been confirmed for Malaysia next month after the UAE had been considered to stage the clash.

The match, which will go some way to deciding who keeps alive their bid to reach Russia next summer, has to be played at a neutral venue given the political situation in Syria, with the Hang Jebat Stadium in Melaka now chosen as host. The fixture will take place on October 5, with the return leg at Sydney’s Stadium Australia five days later.

Highlights from game against Iran

The Syrian Football Federation had investigated staging the first leg in Abu Dhabi but realised that, given the short time until the match, obtaining visas for players and staff would prove difficult. The federation informed the UAE Football Association of their decision.

Syria have not hosted an international match on home soil since 2010, with all of their third-round home qualifiers played in Malaysia. Three of those came at the Hang Jebat Stadium, where Ayman Al Hakeem’s side defeated Uzbekistan and Qatar and drew with China.

Syria football fans watch the FIFA World Cup 2018 qualification football match between Iran and Syria on a large screen at the Al-Jalaa stadium in Damascus on September 5, 2017.
For the first time in Syria's conflict, sport has come to the defence of the deeply-fractured country's unity, with regime backers and foes alike dreaming of World Cup 2018 qualification. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA

Syria booked their spot in the play-off in dramatic fashion last week, when Omar Al Somah's injury-time goal earned a 2-2 draw against already-qualified Iran in the final match of Group A. The point meant Syria finished third in the standings, and will therefore meet Australia, the third-placed team from Group B. That pool included the UAE, who finished fourth.

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The winner of the Asian play-off will then face the fourth-placed team from the Concacaf qualification across two legs in November for a place at the World Cup.

Ranked 80th in the world by Fifa, Syria are attempting to make the global finals for the first time in their history. Asian champions Australia, the continent’s third-highest ranked team at No 45, are seeking a fourth successive appearance.