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Sydney: Firas Al Khatib believes that Syria’s Road to Russia came to an end because they were unable to beat Australia in the first leg of the Asian Play-offs after a 2-1 defeat in Tuesday’s second leg saw the Socceroos advance to the FIFA World Cup Inter-Continental Play-off following a 3-2 aggregate scoreline.

After playing out a 1-1 draw in Melaka last Thursday, the sides went into the game at Stadium Australia level pegging with the winners set to progress to a meeting with the fourth-ranked team from CONCACAF.

The West Asians took an early lead as Omar Al Soma scored his third goal in as many matches, before Tim Cahill equalised shortly after and Australia then went on to dominate proceedings against a resolute Syrian backline.

With no further goals in the 90 minutes the game went to extra-time and, after Mahmoud Al Mawas was dismissed for his second bookable offence, Australian pressure finally paid off as Cahill headed home in the 109th minute to break Syrian hearts.


“We have to look at our mistakes. This tie consisted of two legs and I think the real defeat came in the first leg,” said Al Khatib.

“We lost the tie because we couldn’t win in Malaysia. If you can’t win your home match it makes things very difficult.

“We were playing against a team who have qualified for three straight World Cups and the fact that we were missing four key players complicated matters further.”

Syria went into the game without their suspended top scorer Omar Khribin and, despite Al Khatib’s superb 15-minute cameo in the first leg, opted to leave the 34-year-old on the bench.

Al Soma’s opener cancelled out Australia’s away goal in Melaka, but the Qasioun Eagles faced an onslaught from the hosts as they struggled to keep hold of the ball.

Al Khatib was introduced on the hour in the hope he could create something against the run of play but, despite the playmaker’s composure on the ball, it was the Socceroos who kept pressing.

Cahill eventually put Ange Postecoglou’s side in front in the second period of extra-time but, having forged a reputation for netting so many late goals in the qualifying campaign, there was still one final chance for the visitors.

However, Al Soma’s free-kick struck the woodwork in added time and Australia advanced as Syria's remarkable run was finally brought to a halt.

“I want to apologise to the Syrian fans on behalf of all my teammates and all Syrians everywhere,” added Al Khatib.

“We wanted to make them happy and put smiles on their faces but we couldn’t manage it as luck was against us.

“Hopefully things will be better for Syrian football in the future and, if the coaches think Firas Al Khatib is capable of playing on, I will be available.”

Photos: Lagardère Sports