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.


Saudi Arabia under no illusions as to size of task after defeating Indonesia at Asian Games

Updated 17 August 2018
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Saudi Arabia under no illusions as to size of task after defeating Indonesia at Asian Games

  • Victory over the hosts gifts Saudi Arabia top spot in Group C.
  • Manager Muhanna Al-Qamous still targeting a place in the semifinals.

JAKARTA: Schools were closed and the Indonesia president held a special ceremony to mark 73 years of independence, but the Saudi Arabian handball team were in no mood to hand out gifts on Indonesian National Day as they beat the Asian Games hosts 47-13 at the Gor Popki Cibubur sports complex.

The victory for Muhanna Al-Qamous’ side ensured they finish the preliminary group stage undefeated and top of Group C, one position higher than they managed four years ago in Incheon. They will now progress to the main round, where they join a group consisting of Japan, Iraq and reigning champions Qatar.

“We hoped that this would be an easy game, but you can never underestimate an opponent,” Al-Qamous, the Saudi team manager, told Arab News after watching his side dominate Indonesia throughout.
“It was their national day and the atmosphere was good — everybody was excited and the players were clearly happy to be playing in front of their home support. This was their day, but we had to be professional and I think the opposition knew it would be difficult for them to achieve something here.”

Indonesia had lost their opening match against Hong Kong 40-17 while Saudi Arabia had gone on to defeat Hong Kong 42-24. With strong performances by pivot Ali Alibrahim and center-back Mahdi Al-Salem — both of whom finished the tie with 100 percent shot-conversion rates — Indonesia were unable to put up much of a fight. Saudi raced to a 21-4 lead in the first period, before adding a further 26 as the hosts tired. 

“Two games and two wins. We can be very proud, but we must not get carried away. Now we will play against Japan on Monday and that match will, for me, be crucial to our hopes of reaching the semifinals. We know them well so it will be a difficult game for both teams, but we can be confident,” said Al-Qamous, who recalled losing to the East Asians in the third-place play-off at the 2016 Asian Championships.  

Japan only squeezed through to the second phase after drawing 26-26 with South Korea in their final group game. Iraq meanwhile lost to Bahrain, bronze-medallists four years ago, but defeated Chinese Taipei and India to progress. Qatar, who won their first Asian Games title four years ago by upsetting six-time champions and hosts South Korea in the final, have continued where they left off, with resounding wins over Malaysia and Iran.

Yet with the top two teams going through to the semifinals, Al-Qamous knows victory against Japan on Monday is crucial to easing their safe passage. And having competed at the World Championships eight times, he believes pressure will not be an issue. 

“It will be a difficult group, no doubt, but we are concentrating on reaching the semifinals again” he said.
“Whoever we play, we believe we can win, but the way the group is set up, that first game against Japan will be so key in my opinion. If we can win, we will face Iraq next knowing victory will put us in the semis. Everything will appear that much easier. The Japan match will decide the order. Inshallah, our experience will see us through.”