Syria must slay the giant killers of Jordan and ignite campaign
Syria go into their second Group B fixture in the Asian Cup on Thursday in desperate need of a win.
Bernd Stange’s side were left frustrated by a valiant Palestine display in their goalless opener, but beating Jordan is in no way a foregone conclusion.
The Jordanians pulled off what might go down as the upset of the tournament when they defending champions Australia 1-0 on Sunday.
Jordan on a high
Just how big a result Jordan’s win over Australia was cannot be emphasised enough. Beating the Asian Cup holders in their opening match was as shocking as it was impressive. Yes, they endured long spells without the ball - Australia had 70 per cent of possession in the first half - but did well to restrict the number of clear-cut chances afforded to the Socceroos.
Notably, they closed down the Aussies in midfield with real tenacity and always offered a threat on the break. Head coach Vital Borkelmans will hope their sky-high confidence helps them replicate that performance when they face Syria.
Syrian stars must strike
Syria boast a formidable front pair in strikers Omar Khrbin and Omar Al Soma but neither could find the target against an inferior Palestine side who for the final 22 minutes were down to 10 men following Mohammed Saleh’s dismissal. The duo are among the most threatening forward pairings in Asia but captain Al Soma - three-time winner of the Saudi Professional League Golden Boot - had a day to forget in their Group B opener.
The Al Ahli striker cut a frustrated figure as he was often crowded out in the final third. Khrbin on the other hand sprung into life in patches and was at the centre of his side’s best opportunities but ultimately couldn’t find the target. Syria need to get their star strikers firing against Jordan.
Al Mawas boost
Given that Jordan will look to emulate Palestine’s defensive lowblock and frustrate Syria’s attackers, Stange will be hoping to welcome back the creative input of Mahmoud Al Mawas. The Umm Salal winger was serving out his suspension from competitive games during the opening fixture after being sent off in the final World Cup playoff game against Australia.
He was issued a second yellow for a challenge on Matt Leckie as the Aussies won 2-1 in extra-time and 3-2 on aggregate. Al Mawas starts on the right flank but regularly tucks inside, dropping into pockets of space in the final third from where he can affect the attack. His inclusion would lend support to Khrbin and elevate Syria’s link-up play in and around the area. With Osama Omari likely to be sidelined after being injured against Palestine, Al Mawas’ inclusion is even more crucial.
Predator looks for his prey: UAE striker Ali Mabkhout (l) will be key against India.
Kept quiet: Syria’s Omar Khrbin (l).