Al-Soma’s late penalty kick gives Syria 1-1 draw against Australia

Omar Al-Soma of Syria, center, heads the ball against Australia players during the 2018 World Cup qualifying football match between Syria and Australia at the Hang Jebat Stadium in Malacca on Thursday. (AFP)
Updated 05 October 2017
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Al-Soma’s late penalty kick gives Syria 1-1 draw against Australia

MALACCA: Omar Al-Soma won a late penalty and converted from the spot to give Syria a 1-1 draw with Australia on Thursday and keep the war-torn country’s World Cup hopes alive.
Syria scored in the 85th minute after Mathew Leckie was penalized for his aerial challenge on Al-Soma.
The Syrians, who have never before qualified for a World Cup, are facing Australia in a two-leg Asian playoff for the right to go into an intercontinental playoff. The next stage is a two-leg series against the fourth-place team from the North American region, meaning a possible showdown with the US.
Before that, though, is the return leg of the Asian playoff in Sydney on Tuesday.
The Australians dominated the first half and led 1-0 at the break on neutral ground in Malaysia, where Syria is hosting its World Cup qualifying matches because of the ongoing conflict at home. Robbie Kruse timed his run perfectly to get a touch past goalkeeper Ibrahim Alma in the 40th minute.
The Syrians rallied in the second half, with Al-Soma and Omar Khribin creating opportunities. The tempo lifted further when veteran forward Firas Al-Khatib came on in the 75th.
“I think we were a bit unlucky. I’m not sure what happened with the penalty — maybe it touched his hand? I don’t know,” Australia stand-in captain Mark Milligan said. “We’re very confident. We’ll go home and get them on a good pitch in front of our home fans.”
The Australians had other chances to score, with Milligan’s long-range shot well saved in the 19th and Leckie sending a rushed shot over the bar in the 29th.
Alma made another save in the 42nd on Aziz Behich’s curling right-foot shot. Leckie then leaped high but headed over the bar a minute before the break.
Tomi Juric hit the left post twice within a matter of seconds at the start of the second half, missing a chance to double Australia’s lead.
From then on, though, Syria started gaining the momentum and launching counter-attacks against a tiring Australian defense. And the small but vocal crowd in Malacca was heavily behind the underdogs.
Syria went close with free kicks in the 67th and 68th minutes — the first cleared by Behich off the line and Khribin’s deflection off the defensive wall skewing wide on the second.
A speedy burst and shot from Khatib forced a good, reflex save from Matt Ryan in the 78th and the Australia goalkeeper tipped a hard shot from Moayad Ajan over the bar in injury time to preserve the draw, only moments after Alma made a game-saving stop for Syria at the other end.


Novak Djokovic fails to Master Monte Carlo after shock defeat to Dominic Thiem

Updated 19 April 2018
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Novak Djokovic fails to Master Monte Carlo after shock defeat to Dominic Thiem

  • Former world No.1 still searching for form after returning from injury.
  • Serb is without a title in nearly a year.

A day after needing 10 match points to advance, Novak Djokovic did not even come close to getting one.
The former world No.1 lost to Dominic Thiem 6-7, 6-2, 6-3 in the third round of the Monte Carlo Masters despite saying recently he was finally playing pain free after two years of struggles with a persistent right elbow injury.
Djokovic saved one match point against Thiem, but indecision appeared to cost him on the second. The ninth-seeded Djokovic seemed to change his mind about which shot to play, initially shaping up for a low backhand volley at the net but instead going for a backhand which went long.
Djokovic did save three set points in the first set, and the momentum carried over into the tiebreak. But his backhand let him down after that, with Thiem getting consecutive breaks and holding for the second set when Djokovic patted a two-handed backhand into the net.
Thiem, who also beat Djokovic on clay in last year’s French Open quarterfinals, will next face defending champion Rafael Nadal or Karen Khachanov.
Third-seeded Alexander Zverev could face his brother in the last eight after beating Jan-Lennard Struff 6-4, 4-6, 6-4. He will next face either Mischa Zverev or Richard Gasquet.
“Hopefully my brother will win and it will be an amazing day tomorrow,” the younger Zverev said.
Second-seeded Marin Cilic advanced without hitting a ball after Milos Raonic pulled out with a right knee injury. Cilic, the Australian Open runner-up, will next play Kei Nishikori or Andreas Seppi.
Raonic said he hurt his knee during his second-round win on Wednesday.
“It was difficult yesterday early in the match, I rotated on my knee. I thought through treatment and so-forth it would be better,” Raonic said. “I was predisposed to some risk and I was unable to play with that amount of pain. I’ll know more in the (coming) days.”
Sixth-seeded David Goffin also made it through after beating Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain 6-4, 7-5 in a match that included a bizarre incident involving a ball boy.
After dropping his serve to trail 4-1, Bautista Agut cleared a ball from the back of the court just as a ball boy was sprinting across. The ball, which was traveling slowly, bounced and clipped the ball boy on the head. Bautista Agut raised a hand in apology but still got a warning from the chair umpire.
Goffin, a semifinalist in Monte Carlo last year, was confused by what happened.
“I just saw the ball directly hitting the ball boy. I was surprised to see he (Bautista Agut) only got a warning,” Goffin said. “For me, if you send a ball onto the ball boy’s head, you’re (kicked) off. I don’t know what the rules are exactly, how he only got a warning. He said the ball bounced and the ball boy just happened to be there. Bad luck for him. But in any case, it’s just an incident.”
Goffin will next play Grigor Dimitrov in their first meeting on clay. The fourth-seeded Bulgarian beat Philipp Kohlschreiber 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.