Singapore play Syria in Oman on Thursday (Midnight Friday, Singapore time) in a crucial qualifying match for the 2018 World Cup. James Dampney gives you the lowdown on the West Asian nation...
Syria are currently ranked 117th by FIFA, 38 places higher than 155th-ranked Singapore. That puts Syria in 14th overall in Asia, a list that is led by Iran (No.41), South Korea (No.54) and Group E rivals Japan (No.56). Syria will welcome Japan to Oman on October 8 and then travel to the Land of the Rising Sun on March 29 next year, the final day of second round qualifying. They will also make a stop at Singapore's National Stadium on November 17 to take on the Lions.
Syria’s best-ever ranking is 78, achieved back in 1993. They have never qualified for a World Cup finals, although they made their first attempt right back in 1950. They are yet to make it out of the first round in five Asian Cup appearances, but do have a strong record in the West Asian championships. Runners-up in 2000 and 2004, they won the tournament in 2012, beating Iraq in the final (pictured above).
The Syrian team, known as the Eagles, is undefeated in its past seven matches, dating back to a 3-0 win over Malaysia in November last year. The Eagles have also overcome Indonesia, Jordan, Tajikistan, Oman and Afghanistan during that time, plus fighting out a 2-2 draw with Lebanon.
The victory over Afghanistan was a 6-0 thrashing in their opening World Cup qualifier in June. They are currently second in Group E, one point behind Singapore, having played one game less.
Overall Syria and Singapore have met three times, with the latter picking up two wins and losing once. The nations split their matches in 2013 during qualifying for the 2015 Asian Cup, while they also played a one-off friendly back in 1978. On that occasion, Singapore prevailed 4-1 in Kuala Lumpur. Singapore great and current Lions assistant coach Fandi Ahmad has called Thursday's game the most critical to the nation's hopes of making it through to the next round of qualifying.
Syria’s traditional home ground is the Aleppo International Stadium in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. Due to ongoing conflicts on home soil, however, FIFA have prevented Syria from hosting home matches. So the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex in Muscat, Oman, around 3,000km southeast of Syria, has been chosen to host their first ‘home’ match of the qualifying series.
The Eagles’ first official match was a 7-0 defeat to Turkey on November 20, 1949. Three times they have emerged victorious by a scoreline of 12-0, the biggest margin of victory in their history. That included identical 12-0 wins against the Maldives in Syria and Iran, just five days apart in 1997. Their biggest defeat has been 8-0 on two occasions – to Greece and Egypt in 1949 and 1951 respectively.
Fajr Ibrahim is the current Syrian head coach. It is his third stint in charge of his national side following earlier posts from 2006-08 and 2008-10. The 51-year-old’s overall record is more than respectable – 27 wins, 10 draws and eight losses. He is undefeated through five games since being reappointed in January this year.
Photos: Courtesy of FIFA.com