Omar Al Somah says there is "no impossible in football" as Syria look to keep alive their improbable World Cup bid next week after holding Australia to a draw on Thursday in the first leg of their continental play-off.
The Syrian striker, who only this year returned to the national team set up, scored a contentiously awarded penalty five minutes from time at the Hang Jebat Stadium in Melaka, Malaysia, to cancel out Robbie Kruse’s first-half goal for Australia.
The result leaves the tie delicately poised ahead of the return leg in Sydney on Tuesday, as Syria look to get past the Asian champions and set up a final play-off to reach the tournament in Russia next year. The winners of Syria-Australia face another two-legged clash next month with the four-placed team from the Concacaf section.
With their country ravaged by war, the Syrians are striving to book what would be their debut appearance at a World Cup. Given the political situation in their homeland, their “home” qualifiers are played in Malaysia. Australia, meanwhile, are aiming to make a fourth successive global finals.
They could not be separated from Syria on Thursday, though, thanks to Al Somah's late penalty. The Al Ahli Jeddah striker, who scored his second goal since ending a five-year absence from the international game, praised his side’s resolve in coming back to draw against Australia.
"In the first half we weren't as good as we should, but in the second we took control of the match until the last minute," Al Somah said. "The match in Australia will be difficult, in front of their supporters and at their home venue... but there's no impossible in football.”
The draw piles the pressure on Australia heading into the return match at Stadium Australia. Ange Postecoglou’s men will point to some questionable officiating in Melaka, when in the 84th minute, Mathew Leckie was harshly adjudged to have fouled Al Somah in the visitors’ penalty area.
The two players contested a high cross and, as they both jumped, Leckie’s armed brushed Al Somah’s back. The referee immediately pointed to the spot.
“It’s never a pen, but you expect that with the referees in this confederation so you’ve just got to move on and we’ve go to do the job at home,” said Kruse pitchside afterwards. “[Leckie’s] headed the ball outside the box - he’s jumped in the air and he’s touched him. The [Syrian] guy’s six-foot-five and he’s gone down pretty easily.
“You knew the referee wanted to give it; I think he almost blew it before he even went down. We’ve had this ref before and you know what it’s going to be like so it’s disappointing. We have to move on and look to the next game.”
For his part, Postecoglou conceded that the award bemused him. His side could have been two goals to the good by that stage - Tomi Juric twice struck the post in quick succession in the second half - although the Australians did have to withstand sustained Syria pressure, too.
Postecoglou said: "When you do defend like that it is disappointing when you do finally concede one that comes from a decision that looked dubious, I thought. When a guy’s winning the ball clearly in the air I’m a bit baffled, but it is what it is.”