Syria eyeing Miracle of Sydney in shoot-out with Australia
Syria will rely on their trademark fighting spirit to keep their World Cup "miracle" alive against Australia today.
The Syrians were fortunate to grab a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the Asian play-off in Malaysia last week, courtesy of a controversial late penalty that left Australia fuming.
But it was enough to maintain a remarkable qualifying campaign that has defied Syria's brutal civil war, thanks largely to a steely resolve instilled by coach Ayman al-Hakim.
It now comes down to 90 minutes at Sydney's ANZ Stadium, with the winners going into a two-legged clash with the fourth-placed team from the Concacaf zone - currently Panama.
"Our match with Australia in Sydney is difficult, and although we'll be missing five players (through injuries or suspension), we are used to playing outside of our land," said al-Hakim.
"I say to our fans: What we have achieved so far is not only an achievement, but a miracle, and we will push with all our force to continue our journey on the path of achieving our dream."
Striker Omar al-Soma, who only recently returned to the team after a long absence believed to be for political reasons, said the squad didn't lack self-belief.
"The draw (in Malaysia) was fair... our key for the second match will be the fighting spirit, the will and the set-pieces," he said.
The stadium has been home to some of Australia's most memorable moments, including the 2005 World Cup play-off win against Uruguay that sent them to their first Finals in 32 years.
Coach Ange Postecoglou said home support could make all the difference to the Socceroos, who also lifted the Asian Cup at the same venue in 2015.
"When 80 per cent of your players play abroad, it does have extra significance when they play at home in front of family and friends and feel that sort of love from the crowd," he said.
"It certainly helps, and in some ways, it influences what happens on the pitch with the opposition - they feel the heat of the opposition crowd."
Australia are driven by the feeling they were robbed in the first match by the dubious penalty decision of Iranian referee Alireza Faghani that denied them a crucial advantage.
The imposing al-Soma converted from the spot in the 85th minute, cancelling out Robbie Kruse's first-half opener. - AFP