- Syria and Australia to contest a two-legged play-off over five days
- The midfielder has played 15 times for his country during 2018 qualifiers
- ‘We’re ready for the battle,’ he says
Thursday 5 October will certainly be a historic day for Syrian football, when the eyes of Syria fans the world over turn towards Malaysia. Their precise focus will be on the Hang Jebat Stadium in Malacca, which hosts the first leg of the Eagles of Qasioun’s fourth-round play-off in the AFC qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ .
Given the security situation in Syria, the game in Malaysia counts as the home fixture for the Syrians. Yet they are still optimistic about playing at the Hang Jebat Stadium, where they recorded two wins (over Uzbekistan and Qatar) and four draws during the third round of AFC qualifying for Russia 2018.
Despite the presence of some household names in the Socceroos’ squad, Syria midfielder Mohammed Zaher Midani is confident that his side can overcome this considerable hurdle, telling FIFA.com that he and his team-mates are "ready to take on Australia".
"We played well in the qualifiers, and even hoped we might qualify directly for Russia. But making it to round four was still excellent. We’ll now take on the Australians in two crucial games, and we’re ready for the battle," added the man who plays his club football for Iraq's Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya.
Midani and his team-mates will be hoping for a good result on Thursday to take into the return leg in Sydney five days later. The aggregate winner will then represent Asia in an intercontinental play-off against the fourth-placed team from the CONCACAF zone.
"Both games will be tough," said the 28-year old, who started his football career at the Damascus-based Al Majd club. "But we’re ready for them. Our technical team will certainly have watched the games they have played and have the relevant data about them.
"The good thing is that our national team players are now competing with their clubs, which wasn’t the case before, when local leagues were on hold. We’ll do everything we can to gratify the Syrian people, who are longing for a joyful event to bring them together."
Big-match experienceApart from Al Majd, Midani played for Al-Shorta club before moving to Iraq, where he has had successful spells with Al-Zawraa and Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya. Indeed, he won the Iraqi league title with both clubs before helping the latter lift the 2016 AFC Cup and reach this year’s final, set to be played in November.
Midani has also been an integral part of the Syrian squad during the Russia 2018 qualifiers, starting 13 matches and coming off the bench in two more. In total he sat out just three of his side’s qualifiers, all of them coming in Round 3, where the Eagles of Qasioun’s finished third in Group A.
Discussing his contribution to the qualifications, Midani said: "I participated in most of the games, both the official and friendly ones. I was always with the team, and that gave me great confidence to go out and prove my worth."
Asked about the stars in the Australian team and how he hoped to deal with them in midfield, Midani refused to be overawed. "Thank God, I have good experience. I play professionally with Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya in the Iraqi League and have won the AFC Cup. I’ve also played many times for the national team. I’ve been a professional player for five years., which has greatly enhanced my abilities, so I will bring all this experience to bear in the matches against Australia.
"Australia may have many big-name players who are known for their individual talents, but we have the enormous potential that comes from performing as a group, as well as the individual skills of our players. And we have a huge motivation – which is to make the Syrian people happy. The players and management hope we’ll be able to unify our people," he concluded.
The Syrian people, whatever their faction, will be united behind their team on Thursday, hoping it can take another big step toward their ultimate dream of gracing the FIFA World Cup for the first time.