By Payam Younesipour
November 17, 2021
Iran’s national football team won 2-0 against Syria today in the sixth match of the final round of the 2022 Qatar World Cup qualifiers. Iran was leading at the top of the table while the Syrian team languished at the bottom – and now Iran’s victory takes it one step closer to the World Cup. Iran needs only four more points from its next four matches to qualify.
Today’s match, which was played in Jordan, was also notable for its guests; those who felt Syria’s civil war and the human rights crimes of its government. In February 2021, the United Nations announced that more than 660,000 Syrian refugees who had fled either the civil war, or the repression of President Bashar al-Assad’s government, had taken shelter in Jordanian refugee camps. The UN also said that 1.3 million people have sought refuge in Jordan since the start of the conflict in Syria in March 2011.
Jordanian government officials have said the cost of hosting the refugees, which includes food and accommodation in tents and barracks, has exceeded $10 billion, and that international agencies must pay the cost in accordance with their previous commitments. The Syrian government, however, is taking advantage of its refugee exodus to neighboring countries. On FIFA’s request, Syria’s football federation, which is allowed to host international football events due to conflict and insecurity, asked Jordan to host its national team.
Syria is not allowed to host any international football events of the World Federation due to military conflicts and internal insecurity. The country could have chosen Qatar (with its facilities built for the World Cup) but the Ministry of Sports opted for the closer choice.
Jordan has now allowed 6,500 spectators to attend the 18,000-seat King Abdullah Stadium in Jordan. The majority of them will be Syrian refugees. Fars News Agency, affiliated with the Islamic Republic Revolutionary Guards Corps, confirmed that the reason for Syria’s choice of Jordan was “the large presence of Syrians in the country,” but did elaborate on why so many Syrians are in Jordan.
The Iraqi national team had earlier hosted Iran in the same stadium – before the coronavirus pandemic – for the second Qatar qualifying round. The UN says more than 3 million Iraqis have fled to Jordan and applied for asylum since 2017. In the 2019 Iran-Iraq match, Iran’s team in Jordan defeated Iraq 2-1 in front of 16,000 Iraqi spectators, a significant part of whom were also refugees in Syria.
The stadium has changed since two years ago. Repairs carried out during the coronavirus pandemic reduced capacity from 25,000 to 18,000 – though it is a modern facility. The Iranian national football team faced Syria without two of its main stars. Mehdi Taromi was not invited due to a disciplinary measure; and Alireza Jahanbakhsh, the team captain, missed the Syria match due to two warnings in a previous match against Lebanon.
The team manager Dragan Skocic, who had a dispute with the staff of the host team at the end of the Iran-Lebanon match and was censured by the referee, meanwhile has lot the right to sit on the national team bench. But Iran’s national squad still had a full hand to face Syrian. If Saman Qodus, who protested against his substitution in the previous game, is not disciplined and is included in the team, the national team makeup may return to Skocic’s favorite four-four-two arrangement.
Syria’s national team, however, began its training in Jordan on Sunday with an army of absentees. Omar Kharbin, the star of the Syrian team’s offensive line, and Ayaz Osman, the famous Syrian midfielder, were unable to play against Iran due to injuries. A few wags suggested that news of the two stars’ injuries was a ruse by the team’s staff to mislead Iran’s coaches.
Omar Kharbin is a former star of the Saudi Al-Hilal team from whom Alireza Biranvand, the goalkeeper of the Iranian national team, does not have happy memories. He has a history of posting insulting caricatures on his Instagram page, which showed him flogging Biranvand and the famed footballer Ali Daei. Kharbin is now the UAE Al-Wahda team first striker.
Ayaz Osman has also played for German, Turkish and Romanian clubs and is currently a member of the Greek club Unicus. Syria was unable to field Mardik Gorg Mardikian despite Omar Kharbin’s absence. The Armenian striker for Syria, along with the other striker of the team, Alaa Al-Dali, are not allowed to accompany their national team because they play professionally in Kuwait which has strict covid exit restrictions barring them from leaving the country.
Before Iran’s victory, its managers will have worried about Omar Soma, the current Al-Ahly striker of Saudi Arabia, who has always been considered a first-class enemy of Iranian goalies especially Alireza Biranvand. Before 2017 he had scored four points on Biranvand in club and national games.