Syria vs Socceroos: World Cup qualifier preview and prediction

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    The Socceroos will be forced through the final round of FIFA World Cup qualification for the first time since they moved to Asia, and it starts with a two-leg tie against Syria.

    Australia’s qualification campaign went from bad to worse over the last 12 months, and with Ange Postecoglou’s men drawing four of their ten games in the third round, they could only muster enough points to finish behind Saudi Arabia and Japan, both of whom enjoy direct qualification to Russia.

    While the Socceroos only lost one of their matches in the final round of qualification, a change in formation and an unwillingness to adapt when it became clear things weren’t working as planned has cost them direct qualification.

    Right until the final games Australia were in the hunt, but a 2-0 loss away from home to Japan in the ninth match all but ended their chances. They needed results to go their way in the final round, but in the end, they didn’t help their chances only going past Thailand 2-1.

    Scoring 16 goals in the ten games, the ‘Roos had the third best attacking record in their group, but their defence was poor against good sides under the new structure, letting in 11 goals – four more than Japan.

    Their 2-0 defeat at the hands of Japan summed things up, but the bottom line is that Australia should have qualified direct. A draw away from home against the struggling Thais, as well as one away against Iraq and at home against Japan simply wasn’t good enough.

    The structure hasn’t worked and it’ll be interesting to see if Postecoglou finally bites the bullet and changes things around for the play-off ties – presuming Australia beat Syria and go on to play a Central American side in November for a spot in the Cup.

    Ange Postecoglou Football Australia Socceroos 2017

    (AAP Image/Matt Roberts)

    While all the focus is rightly on the favourites for this match, the story of Syria can’t be overlooked. It warms the heart to hear their tribulations and tumultuous road to the world group playoffs.

    This is a nation who have had to play all of their ‘home’ games (including this one) in Malaysia because their own country is in the grips of war. For the Syrians just to make it this far was beyond their wildest expectations.

    After a reasonably comfortable advancement out of the second round, Syria left it until the last minute, but qualified for the fourth round thanks to goal difference. They were sitting on +1, while Uzbekistan were on -1.

    With only one win and two draws from their first five games, things were looking bleak for Syria, but a 3-1 thumping of Qatar in their ninth match kept them in the hunt, before an injury time goal to Omar Al Somah tied their final game against Iran and ensured qualification to the next round.

    Given Syria have managed to match it with Iran and South Korea, this is going to be far from a pushover effort for Australia.

    Their ball movement in the midfield throughout the qualification campaign has been slow on the back of their new structure, and it’s left their strikers under plenty of pressure to be able to convert anything. Despite opening up multiple opportunities in Sydney against Thailand, they failed to convert time and time again.

    However, their midfield has enough talent to pick up the pace and run Syria ragged in both of these upcoming matches. Aaron Mooy has showcased his skill time and time again, while he is joined by Massimo Luongo, Mark Milligan, Tom Rogic and James Troisi, with Mustafa Amini also included for this playoff tie.

    Australia realistically should beat Syria, but if there is one thing we have seen during the qualifiers, it’s that Syria will defend like their lives depend on it. This is a side who scampered home with four draws, conceding just eight goals across the ten matches.

    If Australia doesn’t pick up the pace from the midfield, then finding gaps up forward for genuine opportunities at goal is going to be easier said than done.

    Shutting down Mahmoud Al-Mawas and Omar Kharbin at the back is also going to be pivotal for Australia. The pair both kicked three goals for Syria during the third round and given Syria only scored nine, that’s not a bad effort.

    With both teams struggling to convert chances and run up any sort of score, we are going to see a tight game, which is more than likely going to be low-scoring.

    Any chances need to be converted because they are likely to be few and far between. Early ball and possession is also going to be key, given the temperature is expected to be in the mid 30s and humidity will be high. It’s going to be a hard slog for the players.

    Adding to that, Australia will be far from used to the type of ground presented. It’s expected to be a pretty rough surface, which is not going to aid a pass-first game, which the Socceroos have attempted to employ. That could play right into Syria’s hands.

    Tim Cahill Australia Football Socceroos 2016

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    Prediction

    Syria’s defence has been hard-nosed and not budged throughout their qualification campaign, and Australia have plenty of issues to sort out if they are going to move into the inter-confederation play-offs.

    They are the favourites, but it might all be still do when the sides head back to Sydney next week.

    A draw seems to be the way it might end up, while Australia getting a goal on the board away from home would give them a monumental advantage.

    Still, I see this ending up goalless.

    Syria 0 – Australia 0.

    Key game information: Syria vs Socceroos

    Kick-off: 11:30pm (AEDT)
    Venue: Hang Jebat Stadium, Malacca, Malaysia
    TV: Live, Fox Sports 501 and Nine Network
    Online: Live, Foxtel app and Foxtel now
    Betting: Australia $1.70, Syria $4.80

    Syria (squad)
    Ibrahim Alma, Mahmoud Al-Youssef, Ahmad Madania, Moayad Ajan, Alaa Al Shbli, Hadi Al Masri, Jehad Al Baour, Gabriel Somi, Amro Jenya, Mahmoud Al Mawas, Osama Omari, Fahd Youssef, Youssef Kalfa, Tamer Haj Mohamad, Hamid Mido, Zaher Midani, Khaled Al Mobayed, Oday Al Jafal, Israa Hamwiah, Omar Khribin, Omar Al Soma, Firas Al Khatib, Mardik Mardikian

    Australia (squad)
    Mat Ryan, Mitch Langerak, Danny Vukovic, Aziz Behich, Milos Degenek, Matthew Jurman, Josh Risdon, Trent Sainsbury, Brad Smith, Bailey Wright, Mustafa Amini, Craig Goodwin, Jackson Irvine, Massimo Luongo, Mark Milligan, Aaron Mooy, Tom Rogic, James Troisi, Tim Cahill, Tomi Juric, Robbie Kruse, Mathew Leckie, Nikita Rukavystya

    Don’t forget to join The Roar for a live blog and highlights of the action from 11:30pm (AEDT).

    Scott Pryde
    Scott Pryde

    One of the mainstays of The Roar, Scott Pryde has written over 1,100 articles covering everything from rugby league to basketball, from tennis to cricket. You can follow him on Twitter @sk_pryde.