DAMASCUS: Syrians in Damascus collapsed into tears of disappointment Tuesday as their war-torn country’s hopes of qualifying for its first ever football World Cup were dashed during extra time against Australia.
The prospect of the Syrian team qualifying for football’s biggest contest brought thousands of cheering fans into public squares and cafes across parts of the country, including the capital Damascus.
Excitement had been building for days, and students lobbied to have lectures rescheduled so they could watch the game, which kicked off in Sydney at noon Syrian time.
Vendors hiked prices for Syria kit as demand soared for the red, black and white strip of the national team, nicknamed the Qasioun Eagles.
Dana Abu Shaar, 18, skipped university classes to watch the match at a cafe in the capital.
She was still clutching a national flag in her hand as she glumly contemplated defeat after Australia scored a crucial second goal in the second half of extra time.
“I was very excited and I expected the Syrian team to win, but now there´s sadness and a lot of disappointment because we had reached a point where there was hardly anything between us and the championships,” she said, her voice cracking.
“It’s not just about football,” she added. “The Syrian people needed this kind of joy, even if it came through sports. The Qasioun Eagles were hope to us. This is a people that has lived seven years of war and was waiting for joy, even if it came through a goal.”
In the wake of the loss, Damascus streets emptied and shops closed early.
President Bashar al-Assad´s office issued a statement praising the team as “heroes” despite their defeat.
“You painted joy on the faces of all Syrians,” the presidency said.
Accountant Ramez Talawi, 29, dressed in the team’s red shirt emblazoned with the national flag, had taken a day off work so he could watch the match.
“The team managed to do something that politics and men of religion could not, which is to unify the Syrian people,” he said.
“It’s the national team and it united Syrians of all political opinions, loyalists and opposition.”
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