Syria erupts in joy after Football team inches closer to WC qualification

Victor Moses in one of the four Premier League forwards bidding to fire Nigeria to Russia

For the first time in Syria's conflict, sport has come to the defence of the deeply-fractured country's unity, with regime backers and foes alike dreaming of World Cup 2018 qualification.

South Korean football must have breathed a huge sigh of relief when the men's national team qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in nail-biting fashion.

"Our match against Iran has already happened", Lee Dong-gook said to the team before their departure to Uzbekistan on Friday.

However, Iran's manager, the former Manchester United assistant Carlos Queiroz, rejected such suggestions, and the frantic nature of the match's final minutes suggest that both teams were indeed desperate to win.

Saudi Arabia also celebrated booking their spot at Russian Federation 2018, but South Korean supporters appeared unconvinced after a 0-0 draw with Uzbekistan took their team to a ninth straight World Cup.

The top two teams in each of Asia's two qualifying groups advance automatically to the finals while the teams in third place go through a series of playoffs.

It's worth noting that the Iranian goalkeeper has kept a clean sheet in the qualifying phase.

Syrian soldier Saeed Ereiji, 34, who wore the national team's shirt over his military pants, could hardly contain his joy. A Facebook page called Syria Team has over 100,000 followers encouraging the Syrian team.

South Korea coach Shin Tae Yong promised a strong showing at next year's World Cup Finals, even as fans expressed fears for their prospects after they struggled to qualify for the tournament.

"But there are a lot of experienced players in our team and you have to enjoy this kind of situation". "We have work to do, but we have nine months to prepare for the World Cup".

The devastating six-year conflict in Syria has ruined the country's football industry, with sports stadiums trashed and numerous national players moving to Arab or Asian countries to play. Son's last goal for South Korea came in October previous year when they beat Qatar 3-2 at home.

Mowaffak Joumaa, the head of Syria's Olympic committee and sports federation, told The Associated Press in Damascus that "every citizen has become a soldier in his own profession" and the soccer players are doing their best for the country.

Defeat in Uzbekistan could see South Korea fail to make it to the global showpiece for the first time since 1982.

Ibrahim Shaker, who plays in Binnish's local football club, was less accommodating.

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