Syria, which has never played in the World Cup, kept its hopes alive with a dramatic 2-2 tie at ally Iran, getting the tying goal in the 93rd minute.
The war-torn country finished third
in Asia's Group A behind Iran and South Korea. It will face Australia, third in Group B behind Japan and Saudi Arabia, in a playoff in October.
That playoff winner will face the
fourth-place team in Concacaf in November, setting up the possibility -- still a ways off -- of a USA-Syria battle for a ticket to Russia 2018. That's right, the USA against one of the six countries
on President Donald Trump's travel ban list.
(After the USA's 1-1 tie with Honduras, its chances of finishing third in World Cup qualifying and avoiding -- at best -- a playoff or
-- at worst -- elimination -- are looking better.)
Omar al-Soma, who had not played for Syria in five years, returned from Saudi Arabia and was the hero with the tying goal. He was
immediately mobbed by his teammates on the field and bench.
Back in Syria, the victory set off wild celebrations and fireworks, at least among supporters of the government of President
Bashar al-Assad. The Arabic hashtag, which translates as #Yes_We_Can, trended on Twitter.
AP reported some fans
labeled the team Assad's team, not theirs, and others showed photos of soccer players killed in the civil war.
Not all players were clearly pro-government supporters. Striker Firas
al-Khatib, who started against Iran, spent five years in exile and was seen attending pro-opposition events.
Al-Khatib, who now plays for a team in Homs, was one of only four
domestic-based players in the starting lineup. The rest play for teams in China, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman.
Syria, which has been playing its qualifiers in Malaysia
because FIFA won't let it play at home because of the hostilities, has never come this close to qualifying before.
In World Cup 2014 qualifying, it was disqualified after the first round
for fielding a player, George Mourad, who had played for Sweden's U-21 team and had not petitioned FIFA to switch national teams.