Dramatic winner gives strife-torn Syria some respite

MALACCA • With seconds to go before Syria's dreams of qualifying for their first World Cup were about to evaporate, Omar Kharbin converted a "Panenka' stoppage-time penalty to give hope to a war-torn nation of 18 million people on Thursday.

They secured a surprise 1-0 win over Uzbekistan at "home" - the Hang Jebat Stadium in neutral Malaysia due to the ongoing conflict in Syria.

They are just two points behind South Korea - their opponents on Tuesday who sit in second and occupying one of Group A's two automatic qualifying spots for Russia 2018.

"We want to put a smile on Syrian faces," forward Omar Kharbin, who like 4.3 million refugees has been making a life for himself away from his native soil, told Agencia EFE.

The 23-year-old plays for Al-Hilal in Saudi Arabia. His latest chip left Syria's head coach Ayman Hakeem in tears during his post-match news conference as he dedicated the win to the Syrian people, reported the BBC.

Iran strengthened their grip on top spot in Group A with a 1-0 win over Qatar that moves Carlos Queiroz's team four points clear.

Uzbekistan's Akhmedov Odil (blue jersey) trying to shake off the attention of Syrian forward Omar Kharbin. Kharbin scored a stoppage-time penalty to keep Syria's hopes of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia alive.
Uzbekistan’s Akhmedov Odil (blue jersey) trying to shake off the attention of Syrian forward Omar Kharbin. Kharbin scored a stoppage-time penalty to keep Syria’s hopes of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia alive. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

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We want to put a smile on Syrian faces.

OMAR KHARBIN , Syria striker, dedicating his goal against Uzbekistan to his long-suffering countrymen.

Mehdi Taremi scored the only goal of the game as Qatar's chances of qualifying for the World Cup before hosting the 2022 tournament appears to be fading fast as they dropped to the bottom of the standings.

Japan stayed on course to book their spot as Vahid Halilhodzic's side handed the United Arab Emirates (UAE) a 2-0 defeat.

But Halilhodzic warned his players not to get "silly" after goals from Yuya Kubo and Yasuyuki Konno kept the Blue Samurai level at the top of Group B with Saudi Arabia.

Japan host Thailand on Tuesday, with Asian Cup holders Australia just three points off the group's two automatic World Cup spots and the UAE a further point adrift with four games left to play.

"I told the players this win will mean nothing if we get beaten by Thailand," Halilhodzic told local media.

"If we continue to play like that we will get to the World Cup but it's important not to blow it by doing something silly in the next game. It's too early to be calculating points."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2017, with the headline 'Dramatic winner gives strife-torn Syria some respite'. Print Edition | Subscribe