Syria keeps World Cup hopes alive with controversial draw against Australia
Lai Seng Sin / Reuters

Syria's players have more than football on their minds, but they're focused on the task at hand.

On Thursday, Syria's hopes of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup were boosted as the Qasioun Eagles and Australia produced a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the Asian Football Confederation's play-off, played in Malaysia. After Robbie Kruse opened the scoring in the first half, Omar Al Soma converted a penalty kick in the 85th minute, setting the stage for a dramatic second leg in Sydney.

Al Soma's goal was a deserved equaliser for Syria, who sat back for the bulk of the game, waiting to launch counterattacks. But Alizera Faghani's decision to award a penalty was questionable, as the Syrian forward fell to the ground with relative ease during an aerial duel with Mathew Leckie. Australia's protests fell upon deaf ears.

Syria's journey to the 2018 World Cup is a divisive topic. Some supporters see it as a feel-good story for a country that desperately needs something to cheer about. Others view it as a propaganda tool for Bashar al-Assad's dictatorship, under which there are killings, disappearances, and detainments.

The winner of the tie will take on a national team from CONCACAF in an inter-confederation play-off in which the victor qualifies for the 2018 World Cup.

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Syria keeps World Cup hopes alive with controversial draw against Australia
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