WAR-TORN Syria enjoyed some rare football success by beating Iraq 1-0 in Kuwait to win the West Asian Championships for the first time.
Ahmad Al Salih headed the winning goal for Syria’s Red Eagles in the 75th minute of the final and they rode their luck in the closing stages before claiming the nine-team biennial tournament honours.
“I give this win and this worthy title to the Syrian people. I thank God that we succeeded in bringing happiness to the sad people,” said striker Omar Al Soma after the match.
More than 40,000 people have been killed in Syria since violence broke out against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011.
The Syrians reached the final after drawing with Iraq and coming from behind to beat Jordan in the group stages. They then beat Bahrain 3-2 on penalties when their semi-final finished 1-1 after extra time.
They had twice previously finished as runners-up in the tournament, in the inaugural edition in 2000 and again four years later, both times losing to Iran.
Syria are ranked 144th by world governing body Fifa and have never qualified for a World Cup but have made the Asian Cup finals on five occasions, most recently last year. They begin the qualifiers for the 2015 Asian Cup in February and will play home matches against Singapore, Jordan and Oman in Iran. The top two teams from the group will compete in the finals in Australia.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi Football Association has denied media reports that it was negotiating with Argentine great Diego Maradona to take over as a coach of the national team. “There is no negotiation between Iraqi Football Association with Diego Maradona and it doesn’t have any intention to hire him,” said deputy IFA head Abdul-Khaliq Masou. The denial came a day after an Argentine football official, Hernan Tofoni, was quoted as saying that Maradona was a leading candidate to take over as Iraq coach.
The Buenos Aires daily La Nacion also reported that Maradona was close to signing a deal with Iraq.
Maradona was fired in July as the coach of Dubai club Al Wasl despite having a year left on his contract. He was dismissed as Argentina’s national coach following the team’s elimination in the quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. His time in charge split public opinion in Argentina with criticism of his tactical decisions, offset by the respect he commands for his achievements as a player.
Former Brazil great Zico resigned as Iraq coach last month. Last night, Sven Goran Eriksson, a target for Ukraine earlier this month, became the latest man to be linked with the vacancy.