Syria's Mahrous ready for his second chance

31 Aug 2021
  • Nizar Mahrous almost qualified for the World Cup as a player

  • Hoping to achieve Syria’s long-cherished dream as a coach

  • Talks about their chances in the Asian qualifiers and the game with IR Iran

Nizar Mahrous was only 22 when he played in the Asian qualifiers for the 1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico™. He helped Syria reach the final stage of that preliminary competition only for a 3-1 defeat to Iraq in their final match to squash their dream of a debut appearance at the global finals. Today, more than 35 years on, Mahrous is back with the Qasioun Eagles, having been appointed national team coach prior to the third round of the AFC Asian qualifying competition for Qatar 2022. Ahead lies an opportunity to make up for that disappointment all those years ago and fulfil the nation’s long-awaited dream of reaching the big stage. In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, Mahrous recalled that loss to Iraq and said it will spur him on in his new role in charge of the national side. “As a player I made it all the way to the last match of the qualifiers,” he said. “It motivates me to do what I was unable to achieve a long time ago. I’m optimistic because we have a mix of quality local and overseas-based players, and I hope that we’ll achieve our objective this time.”

Nov 1985:  Nizar Mahrous of Syria takes on the Iraq defence during the World Cup qualifying match against Iraq played in Damascus, Syria. The match ended in a 0-0 draw. \ Mandatory Credit: Allsport UK /Allsport

Mahrous is in his third stint at the helm of the Syrian national team, after brief spells in 2004 and 2011. He described that most recent tenure as the best to date on account of the time he was able to spend with the team. “My 2004 stay only lasted a week as it was for one match only,” he explained. “My experience in 2011 was special because we had plenty of preparation time. We played some friendlies against big teams and the squad had quality players at the time.” The 58-year-old coach added: “This spell is different because we haven’t had much time together before the qualifiers, though we are optimistic. We hope things will go our way, and if we can manage to get a settled squad, we’ll have the solidity we need to push for qualification.”

Syria coach Nizar Mahrous talks with his assistants during a training session

Challenges ahead

Mahrous faces a tough task, with Syria drawn into a Group A containing Korea Republic, IR Iran, UAE, Iraq, and Lebanon, a section described by the veteran coach as both “easy and tough” at the same time. Asked about his side’s chances, he said: “There’s not much between the teams and we’re in with a chance, especially if we have a settled squad. We hope we can identify the line-up that will make us competitive at this vital stage of the qualifiers. “We’re in with four of our neighbours, which is a double-edged sword because these teams know each other very well. They’ll be tough games. There are some sensitive issues around the fixtures and the teams are closely matched. It’s the details that will make the difference.”