When Omar Kharbin turned professional in 2011, the tragic events that are still ongoing in Syria had already begun. The Damascus-born attacker took part in an initial season with Syrian side Al-Wahda in 2011/12, just a few months after the start of the war, and his country’s difficulties have contributed towards forging his personality.
At 19 years of age, Kharbin left his homeland for Iraq, pulling on the jerseys of Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya and Al-Mina’a, prior to playing a starring role in the UAE Arabian Gulf League with Al-Dhafra this past campaign.
Having been capped at various youth levels, the young striker was handed his first senior call-up in November 2012, a month before being part of in Syria’s first-ever West Asian Football Federation Championship triumph.
He continued to shine on the international stage, to the extent that he is presently Syria’s top goalscorer in the Asian qualifying campaign for the 2018 FIFA World Cup™. Still in with a chance of advancing to Russia, the Qasioun Eagles will begin the third and final round of AFC qualifiers in September.
“All of our matches have been hard, when you take into account the progress that other teams in the continent have made,” Kharbin told FIFA.com. “Singapore, for example, caused us quite a lot of problems, as the tight scoreline suggests. Things were even tougher when we played them on their home patch, especially when they scored a late goal.
“But I did score the winner in the final seconds of the match," he added with a smile, reflecting on that 2-1 triumph in Singapore. "That’s the most important goal of the seven that I’ve managed to get in qualifying up to now, because it came in injury time. It was crucial in helping us get to the third round."
The clinical Syrian now has the opportunity to write a new chapter in his country’s footballing history, as he is now just four goals short of the national record held by Said Bayazid, who scored 11 times during the qualifying campaign for Korea/Japan 2002. “Breaking Bayazid’s record is an additional source of motivation for me,” said the 22-year-old forward.
Extending the adventure
The Syrians now have their sights locked on a first-ever qualification for the final stages of a World Cup. In order to achieve that, they will have to negotiate a tough-looking Group A that also features Iran, Korea Republic, Uzbekistan, China PR and Qatar.
“Our group is trickier than Group B, because all of the teams are strong,” said Kharbin. “But nothing is impossible when you are determined, especially if we can reproduce the level of play we showed throughout the second round.”
Iran are regarded as favourites in Syria’s pool, but Kharbin believes that the other teams are beatable. “Iran is the best side in the group. The Koreans’ form has dipped recently, as Lebanon showed when beating them in the previous round.
“The other teams are pretty good: China have made a lot of progress and Qatar have some talented players, but I think we can compete with them. Our aim is to record some positive results, so that we can finish second, or even third, which would at least enable us to participate in the continental play-off.”
Syria will kick off the third round with a match against Uzbekistan in Tashkent on 1 September – a crucial step on the road to Russia 2018. “It’s sure to be a tricky match,” predicted the imposing front man. “And even more so as it’s due to be held in Tashkent, and we’ll have to try pick up some points away from home.
"Our goal is to put a smile on Syrian faces. I hope that all of our players will stand together and make themselves available for their country.”
After five years of war that have ripped his country apart, Kharbin is hopeful that he and his team-mates can help to bring together the Syrian people. “We want to bring some pleasure to our compatriots, despite their current circumstances. That’s what motivates us to play for the national team, even with all the obstacles. We always think about our supporters and hope we can qualify so we can bring a little joy to them, after all the hurt they’ve experienced.