The Syrian men’s national soccer team is aiming to do something that’s never been done before.
With the odds stacked against them, the Syrians, ranked No. 80 in the world, are trying to qualify for the World Cup for the first time ever.
But those chances took a serious blow in their latest qualifying game. Syria suffered a 1-0 defeat at the hands of South Korea on March 28, leaving them four points back of the third-place finish needed to advance in qualifying with just three matches remaining.
It was a tough loss, especially coming off of a 1-0 victory against Uzbekistan to give them a chance to advance to the playoff stage.
As it currently sits, Syria is in fourth place in its group with the top-two teams qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Iran (17 points) is on top of the group with South Korea (13) in second. Uzbekistan (12) is in third, and the Syrians are in fourth (8). China sits behind with five points and Qatar is in last with four.
The third-place finisher in the group must win two playoff games to qualify for the World Cup.
The Syrian soccer team has quite the incredible story. As documented by ESPN’s Steve Fainaru and investigative series E:60, the players on the team are playing under incredible circumstances.
With an ongoing civil war in its home country, the team plays their home games in Malaysia. Players on the roster often feel threatened to take the field, Fainaru reported, and the team is used as a promotional tool for its government, led by Syria President Bashar al-Assad. Some feel as if they don’t have a choice but to play or risk being killed. The Assad-led government reportedly controls their passports and keeps a watchful eye on almost every move they make.
The report by Fainaru and ESPN said that at least 38 players from the top-two divisions of the Syrian professional leagues — and dozens more from lower divisions — have been shot, bombed or tortured to death by the Assad’s regime.
Despite the surrounding turmoil, the players have powered through and tried to fight for each other and the people of Syria — instead of the government.
Here’s a look at Syria’s remaining World Cup qualifying schedule:
2018 World Cup Qualification Upcoming Schedule
Date: June 13
Location: Hang Jebat Stadium, Kampong Krubong, Melaka, Malaysia
Time: 8:45 a.m. EDT
Date: August 31
Date: September 5
Here is Syria’s current roster as the club tries to qualify for its first-ever World Cup:
Firas al Khatib
Tamer Haj Mohamd
Jehad al Baour
Tamer Haj Mohamad
Wael al Rifai
Izaldin al Awad
Abdulrazak al Hussein
Ahmad al Saleh
Alaa al Shbbli
Oday al Jafal
Hamdi al Massri
Mahmoud al Mawas
Omro al Midani
Zaher al Medani
Moayad al Ajan
Mahmoud al Youssef
Raslan al Kurdi