HISHAM LAHHAM / AIPS* in DAMASCUS: Syria’s national team have managed to do the seeming impossible by keeping alive their hopes of reaching the World Cup finals after holding already-qualified Iran 2-2 in Tehran.

The Qasioun Eagles – from a mountain overlooking the capital, Damascus – knew that a draw would be enough to continue their tough  but not impossible path to qualify for the finals for the first time.

Now, to continue on to Russia, they must beat Australia in the play-offs on October 5 and October 10 before having to face, if they pass that hurdle, a CONCACAF side in another two-legged tie.

At the Azadi stadium in the Iranian capital Tehran in front of 78 000 spectators, Syria managed to steal a draw from the host team who was the better side for most of the match.

The Qasioun Eagles started the game on a high note and took a shock early lead through Tamer Haj Mohamad 13 minutes into the game. That scoreline would have brought them direct qualification. But Sardar Azmoun levelled for Iran on the stroke of half-time before giving the hosts the lead in 64th minute.

National hero Omar Al Somah then snatched a dream equaliser in the third minute of stoppage time to keep Syria on the road to Russia.

Thousands of Syrians gathered in Damascus International Airport on Wednesday morning to welcome their heroes who achieved more than expected given the unimaginable circumstances the country has been going through for the past six years.

Syria played all of their qualifying matches away from home and had to travel to all of their games – no easy feat. This made their mission difficult especially in the second round where they had to face Iran, South Korea, China, Uzbekistan and Qatar.

All of them enjoy better conditions, financial support and circumstances however Syria managed to delight hundreds of thousands of fans who gathered in public squares to cheer on their team.

** AIPS is the international sports journalists’ association with 10,000 members worldwide. More information: www.AIPSmedia.com

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