Karbala: Fajr Ibrahim wants results at the 2019 WAFF Championship, but the Syrian head coach is also using the tournament as an audition process for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 Asian Qualifiers.
Having gone closer than ever to reaching the 2018 FIFA World Cup Finals in Russia, Syria have cause to be optimistic about reaching Qatar, despite a largely disappointing run of results in 2019.
While star Saudi-based attacking duo Omar Al Soma and Omar Khribin were instrumental in the previous campaign, Ibrahim is using the 2019 WAFF Championship to give a number of fringe and home-based players the chance to press their case for selection.
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It is, so far, a strategy which has not brought results, with an opening defeat to Lebanon followed by a frustrating 1-1 draw against Yemen on Monday, but Ibrahim insists preparation for the Asian Qualifiers remains his side’s chief objective.
"We had a new starting list (against Yemen),” said the 55-year-old, now in his fourth stint as national team boss.
“We saw six new players playing for the national team. This is strategy at the time being.
“Giving the chance for the biggest number of players to participate and prove themselves before the Asian Qualifiers is the most important for us."
But while Ibrahim may be pleased with the opportunity to test more players at the international level, he is unsatisfied by Syria’s low standing on the Group A table, where they currently sit equal bottom in the five-team pool alongside Yemen.
"In addition to testing the players, especially the young ones, we also want to get positive results in the WAFF Championship, but luck was not on our side in the first two matches,” declared Ibrahim.
"The Yemen team got two or three chances during the whole match, while we had several chances, but we only managed to score one goal. This is football and we have to accept it."
While many observers are focused on the new faces in the Syrian camp, it was a particularly familiar one which came up with the equaliser against Yemen on Monday, as 36-year-old Firas Al Khatib showed he still has the quality to trouble international defences with an emphatic second-half goal.
The forward, who also scored against Yemen way back in 2002, believes Syria will take lessons from the tournament into their Asian Qualifiers campaign against China PR, Philippines, Maldives and Guam.
"Of course, missing six or seven important players like Omar Al Soma and Omar Khribin has affected the team’s performance in the first two matches against Lebanon and Yemen,” he acknowledged.
“But I think that the team has gained some new faces who will play important roles very soon.”
While Syria were disappointed with Monday’s draw, Yemen’s Abdulwasea Al Matari said he was pleased to have taken a point.
"The draw result was good for us against a strong Syrian team, who we knew would play on a high tempo after losing the first match,” said the 25-year-old, who was instrumental in taking Yemen to the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.
"We managed to absorb the Syrian pressure in the first half, and we scored, but in the second half, they came back and scored the equaliser.
“I think we were better than in the first match (against Palestine) and I hope we get the perfect squad together before the Asian Qualifiers.”
Yemen will begin their Asian Qualifiers campaign away to Singapore on September 5, with Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and Palestine also competing in Group D.
Both Syria and Yemen will continue their respective WAFF Championship campaigns on Thursday, with Syria facing hosts and group leaders Iraq and Yemen to meet Lebanon.
Photos: Iraq Football Association, AFC
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