Syria’s start to their bid of reaching a first World Cup finals could scarcely have started any better. Three games, nine points, and sitting pretty at the top of Group A in the second round of Asian qualification for the 2022 tournament.
Tuesday evening’s 4-0 victory over Guam was both polished and expected. Syria, ranked the 11th best team in Asia by Fifa, were facing a team placed fourth from bottom and comprised of amateurs.
It also helps Syria’s cause when they have a player as accomplished and prolific as captain Omar Al Somah, who led his side from the front with a perfect hat-trick – header, right-foot, left-foot – to take his tally to a competition-leading seven goals. Winger Hussein Al Jwayed capped off a fine individual display with the fourth goal in injury time.
Playing their home games in Dubai for this stage of qualification, Syria got off to the perfect start inside a lively Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium when, inside three minutes, Al Somah rose to meet a curling cross from Al Jwayed and glanced a header low past Guam goalkeeper Sean Evans.
To Guam’s credit, they did well to regroup for much of the first half and produced some encouraging passages of attacking play, although a lack of cutting edge and quality in the final third ultimately told.
The game as a competitive contest was all but over in the 44th minute when Al Somah doubled Syria’s lead with a fierce, low right-footed shot from outside the area.
The Al Ahli striker had a few chances to complete his treble in the second half, none more so than a point-blank range header soon after the break.
However, the wait was worth it as Al Somah sealed his perfect hat-trick in the 83rd minute when he lashed home with his left foot after a burst of pace and power took him away from the Syrian defence.
“He’s a real handful, he’s a big boy but he’s not slow either,” Guam manager Karl Dodd said. “He’s got a lot of attributes so he’s a tough player to play against.”
Al Jwayed then put the finishing touches to an emphatic performance with a right-footed effort inside the area in injury time.
The win ensures Syria have maximum points following a 5-2 win in the Philippines and a 2-1 victory over the Maldives in Dubai.
“I think we played good, better than the Maldives game,” Syria manager Fajer Ebrahim said. “We scored four and didn’t concede any goals – which is important for us as it’s the first game we kept a clean sheet. I am happy about the result and the three points.”
Having previously played their home games in Malaysia during the 2018 World Cup qualification campaign, Syria have adapted well to their new base in the UAE, helped no doubt by passionate support from the stands.
The 2,000 inside the stadium on Tuesday night made so much noise that it could have been mistaken for a capacity crowd.
Indeed, like the Maldives game, a full house is expected when Syria play their next qualification match against China on November 14 in a clash between the top two teams in the group.
A victory over the Chinese could go a long way in booking Syria’s place in the third round and seal a place in the 2023 Asian Cup, but Ebrahim is urging caution.
“For sure [we are enjoying playing in Dubai], we are winning and collecting three points so everyone is happy,” Ebrahim said. “Now the boys can go back home, we have nine points and everyone is proud and I am very proud of my players.
“I think all games are the same in this group. China play at a very good standard but every team is strong and no game is easy against any team.”