For over five years now, the members of the Syrian national football team have been living out of their suitcases.
Shortly after civil strife erupted in the Arab nation at the start of 2011, the FIFA stopped scheduling the national team's home matches in Syria and allotted Muscat as the home ground for the Syrian boys.
The Syrians, nevertheless, have performed exceptionally well in their 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, which began last year summer. Syria finished a creditable second in the Asian second-round Group E, placed right behind Japan. Its impressive showing in the second round, with losses only to Japan, helped it to book a spot in the third round as one of the top four runner-up teams.
But an unabated on-the-road campaign has left many a Syrian team member home sick.
Speaking a day after Syria hammered Cambodia 6-0 at a qualifier in its 'home' match at the Seeb Sports Stadium in Muscat last week, national team coach Fajr Ibrahim admitted that he and his players are longing to play in front of home crowds.
“We miss playing at home,” Ibrahim told Muscat Daily. “We want to go home. Give us a chance. In Syria, football is our first sport. We miss all that. We are sure that sooner than later, the situation will improve and we can play there.”
Ibrahim, who has been at Syria's helm for almost one and a half years now, recounted the fanaticism that had been associated with football games in his homeland.
“Before the war, our league matches used to have packed stadiums. There used to be crowds of 35,000 to 50,000. We want to go back to those days,” Ibrahim said.
The war has hampered the conduct of the national league. Instead of being played across all the domestic venues on a home and away basis, the national league games are now being played in Damascus and Latakia in two groups.
Abdelrazaq al Hussain, a midfielder and one of Ibrahim's key players, says he sorely misses the buzz back home.
“I miss playing in my home country, it's been a really long time we have been playing away only,” says Hussain, who plays for Lebanese club Al Ahed.
“The entire team misses playing in front of home crowds, friends and families. I am eagerly waiting for that day when I can re-settle back home and play football there.”
His teammates are all based outside Syria nowadays, playing in leagues in Oman, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Lebanon.
Coach Ibrahim, however, insists that the current crisis has gone on to motivate the players into making their presence felt on the world stage.
“The situation give us motivation to do more and give more. We have to show to the world that we Syrians are good people. We Syrians can fall sick, but we cannot die. And we fight through football.”
“It's an unusual situation. The war has not just affected sport, but all life in Syria. But we have shown that we can adapt to the situations and fight.”
In its Group E campaign that concluded on Tuesday, Syria had hammered Cambodia 6-0 twice, beaten Afghanistan 6-0 and 5-2, edged Singapore 1-0 and 2-1, and lost twice only to Japan, 0-3 and 0-5.
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