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Al-Soma’s late penalty keeps Syria hopes alive

Syria’s Omar al-Soma reacts at the end of the World Cup Asian playoff first leg against Australia at Hang Jebat Stadium in Malacca, Malaysia, last night. The match ended 1-1. — Reuters

Syria’s Omar al-Soma reacts at the end of the World Cup Asian playoff first leg against Australia at Hang Jebat Stadium in Malacca, Malaysia, last night. The match ended 1-1. — Reuters

Omar al-Soma won a late pen­alty and converted from the spot to give Syria a 1-1 draw with Australia last night and keep the war-torn country’s World Cup hopes alive.

Syria scored in the 85th min­ute after Mathew Leckie was penalized for his aerial chal­lenge on al-Soma.

The Syrians, who have never before qualified for a World Cup, are facing Australia in a two-leg Asian playoff for the right to go into an interconti­nental playoff. The next stage is a two-leg series against the fourth-place team from the North American region, meaning a possible showdown with the United States.

Before that, though, is the return leg of the Asian playoff in Sydney on Tuesday.

The Australians dominated the first half and led 1-0 at the break on the neutral ground in Malacca, Malaysia, where Syria is hosting its World Cup qualifying matches because of the ongoing conflict at home. Robbie Kruse timed his run perfectly to get a touch past goalkeeper Ibrahim Alma in the 40th minute.

The Syrians rallied in the sec­ond half, with al-Soma and Omar Khribin creating opportunities. The tempo lifted further when veteran forward Firas al-Khatib came on in the 75th.

“Ithink we were a bit unlucky. I’m not sure what happened with the penalty — maybe it touched his hand? Idon’t know,” Australia stand-in cap­tain Mark Milligan said. “We’re very confident. We’ll go home and get them on a good pitch in front of our home fans.”

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