Ahead of Tuesday’s crunch FIFA World Cup qualifier with Japan, Syrian coach Fajr Ibrahim has taken the extraordinary measure of removing four players from his squad due to disciplinary reasons.
Already facing unique challenges in assembling a competitive team, the high-flying Syrian side arrived in Tokyo on Sunday with just 14 outfield players to take on Asia’s second highest ranked nation, behind only Iran.
It’s normal because of the circumstances in my country that people questioned us, but I always had faith in my players
It’s understood that two players were removed from the squad prior to last week’s 6-0 win over Cambodia and a further two following that match after they didn’t return to the team hotel until well into the following morning.
Speaking exclusively with FourFourTwo, Ibrahim (pictured above) said that he is prepared to sacrifice results to ensure he maintains discipline within the group.
“Discipline is more important than any individual players,” he said. “It’s no problem, now the other players know what is expected of them and what the consequences will be should they do something similar.
“I removed the players, one central defender, one right-back, a midfielder and an attacker for these reasons; I work for Syria, for my country, not for these players.”
But ahead of the final round of matches they sit just one point adrift of Tuesday night’s opponents and are all but assured of a place in the final round of qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
“We are 90 per cent qualified and that was my main target. It’s normal because of the circumstances in my country that people questioned us, but I always had faith and belief in my players and what we are fighting for is bigger than just us, it’s a fight for our country,” the long-serving coach said.
“Of course if we compare Japan and Syria there are different qualities but we are coming here to get a good result and I don’t really care if we win or lose because this was a very tough group.
“Even Singapore, they have improved dramatically under a good coach and they are a real chance of reaching the Asian Cup so this was a very tough group.”
What’s also been tough for the coach and his squad is the ongoing conflict in the country that has cost the lives of almost 250,000 people, including a host of footballers.
Most of the nation’s best players have been forced to play outside the country and several of the more talented stars have refused to play for the side, but Ibrahim argues this side is a symbol of hope for his war-torn country.
We’re here to get a result and we’ll fight until the end, for our country and for our people
“Of course there are problems in Syria but this is an ancient country that was the birthplace of many of the world’s great civilizations and we are continuing to fight for that.
“Football continues in our country, the league is still going, OK it’s not the same as before but we play for Syria only; we play for our country and our people.
“We don’t look at any political things but we support our country and our president for sure because we know the government is right and our president is right.”
For now, though, it’s time to cast those issues aside and focus on the issue at hand and that’s looking for what would remarkably be their seventh win in eight matches when they face Japan at Saitama Stadium.
“Even if you look at the last match we played, they only started to look good after they scored a penalty in the second half and up to that point we had dominated the first half.
“We’re here to get a result and we’ll fight until the end to get that, for our country and for our people.”