Syria, alongside the Socceroos, were one of the pre-tournament favourites to progress out of the Asian Cup’s Group B, but two matchdays in, the situation is looking bleak for the Middle-Eastern nation.
After a draw against fledgling Palestine and defeat versus the hugely impressive Jordan, Syria are facing elimination if they suffer defeat to Australia, and could even miss out with a draw.
Fortunately for them, the best four of six third-placed teams will progress to the next round, but unless they can win by some three goals against the reigning Asian Cup champions, fate is out of their hands.
Palestine can make a late charge as well against a Jordanian side that has already safely topped the group with six points, so Vital Borkelmans may look to rest some players ahead of the Round of 16.
That could afford Palestine an in.
Syria’s task in Al Ain was made all the harder after the Socceroos regained their mojo following matchday one’s shock 1-0 loss to Jordan. They bushed aside Palestine convincingly 3-0 and could have won by more.
A massive weight was lifted from the shoulders of striker Jamie Maclaren, who scored his first international goal, and the Australia squad more broadly, expected to venture deep into the tournament.
REVIEW | Back on track in the #AsianCup2019.
Massive moment for Maclaren ⚽
— Daily Football Show (@DFS_AUS) January 12, 2019
Now former Syria manager Bernd Stange has been sacked mid-tournament and subsequently replaced by Ayman Hakeem, the man who took Syria all the way to the regional World Cup play-offs in 2017, ironically, against Australia.
And that tie, although ultimately unsuccessful, should offer Syria some confidence leading into the match. They were little more than a coat of paint away from ending the Socceroos’ road to Russia; Omar Al Soma’s late free kick struck Mat Ryan’s upright.
Having faced them a year or so ago, captain Mark Milligan is all too aware of what to expect from the Syrians, now with the added pressure of needing a win to be a realistic chance of advancing in Asia’s premier international competition.
Milligan pinpointed a fast, assertive start as the key to victory.
“We know they’re going to come out firing, they have quality across the park as well,” Milligan said.
“They haven’t had the greatest start so they’ll be wanting to turn things around.
“This group’s still very, very tight and with best third places going through as well, we’ve all got a lot to play for.
This guy was on fire last night 🔥
— Daily Football Show (@DFS_AUS) January 11, 2019
“We need to make sure that we start on the front foot again and make sure that we dominate early.
“They made it very difficult for us over two legs… they’ve got some quality in their team.
“We just need to make sure that we control things from early on.”
While Maclaren did his part up front, going a way to solving the Socceroos’ striking dilemma, Apostolos Giannou gave Graham Arnold something to think about by scoring a goal of his own off the bench in the win over Palestine.
The AEK Larnaca forward was a late addition to the squad following the forced omission of Martin Boyle through injury, and the 28-year-old revealed his delight and troubling the scorers.
“It felt amazing (and) it feels great to get some time on the park,” he said.
“I’m very happy I made an impact.”