Syria saves World Cup qualification bid with late equalizer
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Syria scored deep into stoppage time at Iran to keep alive its hopes of qualifying for the World Cup for the first time amid an ongoing civil war at home.
Facing elimination from Asian qualifying, Omar al-Soma's late goal clinched a 2-2 draw in Tehran and a place in the playoffs for the country.
Al-Soma has only just returned to the squad after a five-year absence, having been living outside Syria without expressing support for the opposition.
The pursuit of a place at the World Cup in Russia has provided a flicker of joy in parts of a country divided by six years of war. Big screens were erected in the Syrian capital Damascus for public screenings.
But while Iran had already qualified for the FIFA showpiece in Russia next year, Syria will have to do it the hard way.
Syria will discover later Tuesday who it will play in a two-match Asian series next month. To make the World Cup, the winner will then have to beat a team form the CONCACAF confederation covering North and Central America, and the Caribbean.
Iran, which clinched qualification for the World Cup in June, is a regional political ally that has provided crucial political and military support to shore up Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces in the war.