With Japan and Jordan drawing 1-1 earlier yesterday, Syria's deserved 2-1 victory propelled them to the top of the group after the first game. Fans and players celebrated afterwards like they had won the tournament. But coach Tita Valeriu, a French-speaking Romanian, said nobody should be getting carried away just yet.
"This is only the first match and all the teams in the group still have a chance to advance to the next stage," he said. "We might have won the battle, but we haven't won the war."
The Syrians, roared on at the Al Rayyan Stadium by their vocal travelling support, will be looking to pull off another major upset when they face Japan on Thursday. Like the Saudis, Japan were among the pre-tournament favourites before the action got going in Doha. But like the Saudis they toiled against supposedly lesser opponents, only avoiding defeat thanks to a last-gasp equaliser.
"To be honest, I didn't expect this result but I expected to have a very good performance," said Valeriu after Abdulrazak Al Husein struck twice for Syria either side of Taiseer Al Jassam's 60th-minute equaliser. "We have good players and the performance of the players was really impressive. I tried my best during a short period to increase the psychological motivation, the technical and also the physical aspects of the side."
The defeat cost Saudi Arabia coach Jose Peseiro his job, and Valeriu knows all about the managerial merry-go-round. The 44-year-old, on loan from Syrian club Ittihad, replaced Serbian Ratomir Dujkovic last month after guiding his Aleppo side to AFC Cup glory, becoming the third Syria coach in three months.
"We played a great game although I have only had a short period with the national team," the Romanian tactician said. "However, we had a good mixture in our side and this was the key point behind the win tonight. The win is only the start and the hard thing for us will be to carry on with the same motivation and good performance in the next matches."
He paid tribute to the Syria fans, who took to their cars in the streets around the stadium after the victory, hanging out of vehicle windows and sitting on car bonnets and roofs. "They were our 12th man and I want to congratulate them and hopefully we can have more good support in the next matches," Valeriu added.