How a sim­ple soc­cer game united a peo­ple

No guns, no bul­lets, no bombs; just fast feet and a foot­ball.

The Coast - - OPINIONATED - BY RAJA SALIM

Re­porters are hav­ing a hard time find­ing “ex­cit­ing” news in Syria in the past few days, even weeks.

This makes me happy. A strange thing for a jour­nal­ist to say. Usu­ally, we look for the ac­tion: a fire, rob­beries, some­thing hot to catch our at­ten­tion. But af­ter seven years of war, bor­ing is good. Sure, there is still fight­ing. The Syr­ian army is set to start a bat­tle for Deir Az Zor, an oil­rich city. This will be im­por­tant for all sides. But right now the only real news came from a bat­tle with Iran on the foot­ball pitch.

It was a qual­i­fy­ing match for the World Cup that took place last week in Tehran. The fight­ing has pre­vented any home games from be­ing played at home.

Face­book and Twit­ter sparkled with news of the game. Down 2-1 in the sec­ond half, but there was hope. Could Syria ad­vance?

Of course, there were pol­i­tics—fin­gers pointed. It is Syria, af­ter all. We are good at that.

Sport could not be sep­a­rated from pol­i­tics, some Syr­i­ans be­lieve. Sup­port­ing the na­tional team means sup­port­ing the Syr­ian govern­ment.

But many seemed good just for­get­ting seven years of war for an af­ter­noon while their team did bat­tle with Iran. No guns, no bul­lets, no bombs; just fast feet and a foot­ball.

Things were not go­ing so well. Go­ing into in­jury time, Syria was still down 2-1. Even my heart pumped a lit­tle faster than nor­mal. I am not sure if it was be­cause of the game or just the peace that came with it. I was happy just to see Syria’s name apart from death for one day.

Lots of peo­ple ba­si­cally put away their dif­fer­ences and showed the world we are still like ev­ery­body else. Well, un­til the im­pos­si­ble hap­pened in in­jury time. Syria scores to tie. One an­nouncer ac­tu­ally starts to cry on air. The streets burst into cheers. So­cial me­dia ex­plodes.

Two years ago, the Syr­ian na­tional team was ranked 126th. Now, we’re just four games away from qual­i­fy­ing for the World Cup for the first time ever.

A sim­ple soc­cer game is all it took to take a break from seven years of fight­ing. A sim­ple soc­cer game united a peo­ple torn apart by hate and war. I won­der...we may be on to some­thing here.

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