If courage and diligence counts for anything, then it can be considered no surprise that Syria are looking forward to their first-ever FIFA U-17 World Cup. The ever-industrious Syrians impressed at last year's FIFA U-20 World Cup in Netherlands by storming into the last eight, and their success in qualifying for another FIFA youth tournament has underlined the steady progress they continue to make at grassroots level.
Syria were drawn against regional powers Kuwait and United Arab Emirates in the preliminary qualifying campaign for the AFC U-17 Championship. Defending gallantly in the opening game, they held Kuwait to a goalless draw before stunning UAE 2-0 to successfully advance to the finals proper.
There, they suffered an early blow, losing to reigning champions and group favorite China in the opening match of Group D. However, Mohamed Al Jomaa's young charges quickly pulled themselves together to register a 7-0 demolition of Bangladesh in the second match and, in doing so, kept their hopes very much alive. In the make-or-break final group meeting with Vietnam, they proved a cut above over their south-eastern Asian rivals, running out 2-0 winners to claim their spot in the knockout stage.
The quarter-final draw then looked to have left them with a mountain to climb encounter, pairing them as it did against the two-time winners Saudi Arabia, who had also won the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Scotland in 1989. However, courage and sheer hard work again carried the Syrian teenagers through as they won 2-1 to book a place in the semi-final as well as a spot at Korea 2007. In the last four, they paid for the lack of international experiences, losing to Korea DPR 3-0, but were unfortunate to miss out on the bronze, going down on penalties to Tajikistan after ending 120 minutes locked at 2-2.
Syria coach Mohamed Al Jomaa is well known across his country for guiding the youth side of Al Karameh to seven domestic titles. Having now added another honour in the shape of Syria's first-ever appearance at a FIFA U-17 World Cup to his already enviable CV, Al Jomaa will be hopeful of helping his side spring another surprise on the world stage. Throughout the qualifying campaign, the coach proved his ability as a motivator as well as a tactician.
It would certainly have been an entirely different story for Syria had they played without Mohammad Jaafar, who eventually won the AFC U-17 Championship's Golden Boot award after scoring six times to fire Syria into the last four. The striker only opened his and Syria's account in the second match against Bangladesh, where he completed his first brace as his team won 7-0 in style. He then emerged as the Syrian hero against Saudi Arabia, scoring twice in a famous win, and though his team to Tajikistan after penalty shootout in the third place play-off, Jaafar's made sure of finishing top of the tournament scoring charts with his third brace.
"My team has been together for a year and I know my boys well. I can turn them from losers to winners with a pep talk." (Mohamed Al Jomaa, coach)
|4||Khaled AL BRIJAWI|
|5||Abd AL NASR HASAN|
|6||Hussam AL HAMAWI|
|8||Adnan Haj YOUSEF|
|15||Alaa AL SHBLI|
|9||Tamer Haj MOHAMD|
|14||Oday AL JAFAL|
|16||Haani AL TAIAR|