Beirut: The word ‘impossible’ is not one you will find in Osama Omari's dictionary. The talented midfielder aspires to lead Syria to their maiden FIFA World Cup in two years’ time in Qatar, the country where he plays his club football with Al-Kharaitiyat.
Omari and his teammates are determined to emulate and, hopefully, eclipse their performance from the Asian Qualifiers for Russia 2018, when they managed to make the play-off only to lose to Australia.
After a 1-1 draw in the first leg in Malaysia, Syria moved tantalisingly close to an Intercontinental play-off berth when Omar Al Somah gave Ayman Hakeem’s charges the lead. However, a brace from Socceroo legend Tim Cahill shattered Syria’s dreams and secured his side a 3-2 aggregate win and a showdown with Honduras.
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In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, Omari recalled that valiant effort from 2017: "We had several key absences and had to play two games in 10 days. Moreover, we had to travel quite a distance from Malaysia, where we played the first leg, to Sydney for the return.
"Our coach Ayman Hakeem could only count on 11 players, which took its toll on us. Moreover, we were reduced to 10 men when Mahmoud Al Mawas was sent off four minutes into the first period of extra time,” he added.
Omari, who scored four goals during the Russia 2018 Qualifiers, said: “We played very well and learned many lessons from that. Now I hope we can make Qatar 2022.”
With five wins from their opening five games in the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023, Syria lead the way in Group A ahead of China PR, Philippines, Maldives and Guam.
Asked for the secret behind that fine run of form, Omari (above, left) revealed: “After we’d been eliminated from the 2019 AFC Asian Cup at the group stage, we were determined to leave behind the resulting negativity and turn over a new page. We then won all our games and are currently top of the group.”
On the subject of their group opponents, Omari said: “There are several contenders, but China are our main rivals. However, the players, the technical team and the federation are desperate to guide Syria to Qatar 2022, and we’re determined to make it happen.”
Persistence and determination
Syria’s group game with China PR last November was hugely significant both for Omari and Syria. In January 2019, in Syria's opening AFC Asian Cup match against Palestine, Omari suffered a cruciate ligament tear in his right knee, keeping him on the sidelines for an extended period.
After recovering and rejoining the national team in October, the 29-year-old played the following month against the Chinese at the Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai. Determined to leave his mark, Omari gave his side the lead on 19 minutes after jumping high to head home a Mahmoud Al-Mawas cross and put the Eagles of Qasioun on course for a 2-1 victory.
“We played very well against China because we knew that a win would move us seven points clear of them. We got what we wanted thanks to coach Fajr Ibrahim’s tactics and my teammates’ perseverance,” Omari explained.
“I was very happy to score the first goal against China. That strike was very important to me after my injury. It was an enormous challenge to come back strongly, and I’m happy I rose to the occasion,” he added.
The perseverance Omari and his teammates have shown so far could prove critical in bringing Syria a maiden appearance at the global showpiece in two years’ time.
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