The Middle East underdogs did a good job in Asian preliminaries for the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™, finishing second in their qualifying group behind the more experienced Oman. Their impressive victories over the Philippines and Laos and a dramatic 3-3 home draw with Oman were good indicators of Syria's drive and promise in FIFA World Cup qualifying.
There is no professional league in Syria, and the national team consists completely of amateur players. The side has been known for their attacking commitment and resilience, particularly when playing in front of their adoring home fans. This tradition was best shown in Syrian giants Al Karama's fairy-tale runners-up finish in the AFC Asian Champions League 2006, when they kept an undefeated record on home soil en route to the final.
But home advantage and attack-mindedness was not enough for them to produce sufficiently good results in the second round of qualifying for Germany 2006. In addition to four points from their three away matches, they gained another four from their three home matches, including a 2-2 draw with group favourites Bahrain. But the total of eight only saw them finish second in Group 6 behind Bahrain, who advanced with 14 points.
Having twice finished second in the West Asian Football Federation (WAFF) Championship in 2000 and 2004, Syria have shown that they are not short of firepower to pull off a surprise result against the continent's big boys. However, the fact remains that, despite their occasional surprising victories over the traditional powers, they have never played in the AFC Asian Cup finals and have never reached the final qualifying stage for a FIFA World Cup.
But as recent history shows, they are by no means a
team to underestimate and anyone writing them off will do so
totally at their own risk. Under coach Fajer Ibrahim, the West
Asians proved themselves this time around in the opening two rounds
of the qualifying campaign for South Africa 2010. A rout of
Afghanistan was followed up by a drubbing of Indonesia.
They continued to do a decent job in the third stage of qualifying for South Africa 2010 as they held strongly fancied Iran to a goalless draw in their opener before fighting out a 1-1 draw with the UAE. Desperately seeking a first win, Syria chose to dispense with the services of Ibrahim and handed the reins to Mohamed Kwid, the Al Karama coach who gained renown for guiding the Syrian giants to a surprise runners-up finish in the AFC Asian Champions League 2006.
The move proved temporarily successful, with Kwid leading the side to a 1-0 win over Kuwait, which moved Syria to joint top spot in Asian qualifying Group 5. However, a 2-0 defeat by Iran proved costly as Kwid's side entered the last match against the UAE needing to pull off a win by three clear goals in order to progress. And they did come up with a win, but the 3-1 scoreline was not quite enough to scale the goal difference mountain, and their rivals advanced at their expense.