- author, Marie-Josie Al-Qassi
- stock, BBC News Arabic – Beirut
For the first time in its history, Syria reached the second round of the 2024 FIFA Asia Cup after defeating India last week.
It is noteworthy that the Syrian national team is participating in this tournament with a team that includes many new faces, and some of the players “do not speak Arabic” and some of them were not born in Syria.
Syria will face Iran in a match scheduled for Wednesday evening, January 31, in a tournament hosted by Qatar until February 10.
What do we know about the characteristics of this team, which plays with “remarkable harmony” under the leadership of well-known Argentine coach Hector Cuper? What are his chances of winning?
In the weeks and months leading up to the tournament, six new players of Syrian descent, born to immigrant families in Latin America and Europe, joined the team.
The squad also includes nine foreign-born players who play for European teams, Latin American teams and Malaysia.
Lebanese sports journalist, Bassem Al-Rawas, told BBC News Arabic that the current national team has 26 players, 18 of whom play professionally outside Syria, which is 70 percent of the total, a high percentage. .
The soldiers, he points out, “come from families who immigrated from the Levant to Latin America in the 1920s and after World War I.”
Players of Syrian origin have the right to regain the citizenship of their country of birth, and they are “an added value to the Syrian national team, as football has advanced in Europe and Latin America. Level.”
He said Syria is “suffering because of the war, so it's not easy to be good at football and make a top team.”
For his part, journalist Alex Ayoub of the BBC News Arab Group says, “The integration of local players into the national team of new immigrant players was remarkable.”
Ayoub says some of the new players of Syrian descent, including Colombian-born Pablo Sabac and Argentine-born Khalil Elias and Ibrahim Hisar, “do not speak Arabic” except Abdul Rahman Uwais. Born in Greece.
The Syrian national team is not the only Arab national team to include players from immigrant families, but rather, the national teams of Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq have seen the inclusion of immigrant players, which FIFA has allowed.
Argentina coach Hector Cuper has extensive experience. He previously coached a number of clubs including Real Mallorca, Valencia, Real Betis in Spain and Inter Milan in Italy, achieving great results with Mallorca and Valencia.
Ayoub believes Cooper was instrumental in recruiting new players of Syrian descent, especially since some of them, like himself, are Latin American.
The Syrian national team is not the first Arab national team Cooper has coached, as he coached the Egyptian national team between 2015 and 2018. Cuper led Egypt to the final of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, but lost 2-1 to Cameroon.
He led Egypt to qualify for the World Cup in 2018, 28 years after 1990.
For his part, Al-Rawas points out that Cooper is not the only good foreign coach leading Arab teams. An example of this is the famous Italian coach Roberto Mancini, who led the Italian national team to win the 2020 European Championship and currently coaches the Saudi national team.
He mentions several Arab teams coached by European coaches, including the Qatar national team led by Spaniard Dentin Marquez Lopez, the Oman national team coached by Croatia's Franko Ivankovic, and the UAE national team coached. Portuguese by Palo Pento.
He says: “It is true that Cooper is important in Europe, but other coaches, especially Mancini, are no less important than him.”
On the reason why players who play professionally in Europe and Latin America are interested in joining the Syrian national team, Alex Ayoub said it may stem from their desire to appear on the radar of some Gulf clubs.
He says: “It is true that they are professional players, but they are not stars at their club.” He adds that they might be interested in better performance in the Gulf by playing their own country's national team.
After the historic victory over India, the Syrian team sparked political controversy – as usual – as some Syrians claimed on social media that it did not represent the Syrian people of all sects, but rather the Syrian government.
Recorded clips appeared on social media showing some players chanting in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and cheering in celebration of qualifying.
Opponents repeatedly used the description of the team as the “barrels team” (a reference to the Syrian forces' aerial bombardments) and considered it aligned with the regime in Syria and therefore unrepresentative of Syrians with their diverse orientations. Backgrounds.
Al-Rawas told the BBC: “It is possible for officials, countries, presidents or leaders to use sports or national teams to polish their images, but, at the same time, we must be sure that the national team represents the whole people. , the whole country, eventually.”
He adds: “The national team includes all sections of the society. It has players from the poor, the rich, those who have completed their studies and those who have not completed it. Thus, the players represent large sections of the society.”
The Syrian war has led to the displacement of millions of Syrians out of the country, and the names of many of them have graced many sports fields in the past few years.
Therefore, some may argue that although the current composition of the Syrian national team includes a large number of expatriates, these represent only a fraction of the Syrian community abroad.
Of course, this debate is long and complicated, and is renewed from time to time among Syrians.
What are the chances of Syria winning against Iran?
In terms of classification, the Iranian national team is higher than its Syrian counterpart.
Al-Rawas says, “Pen and paper calculations balance the victory in favor of Iran, because of the talent of its players, they are members of more important European clubs than their Syrian counterparts. The Iranian national team also won the Asian Cup three times, in 1968, 1972 and 1976.
He added: “It's the seventh time the Syrian team has participated in the tournament, but it's the first time they've qualified for the knockout round. The difference is huge.”
However, Al-Rawas expects the match to not be easy. He says: “The Syrian team always excels during the qualifiers because it is patient and very annoying to the Iranian team.”
He also points out that “the high spirit with which the Syrian team plays, great enthusiasm and the idea that they have nothing to lose” may give them freedom and extra morale after they qualify for the round of 16. .
On the other hand, “The Iranian national team is under heavy pressure as they haven't won the title since 1976 in the tournament held once every 4 years. Iranians yearn for a taste of victory.”