The Syrian national football team, composed of both pro- and anti-government players, managed to gain a draw against Iran on Tuesday in Tehran and advance to the next round of FIFA World Cup qualifications in Asia.
Following the victory, two of the dissident players, Omar al-Somah and Firas al-Khatib, in separate messages praised Syrian President Assad for his support for Syrian national team.
In a TV interview with Syrian TV, al-Somah thanked Assad’s support for the Syrian national football team, and said his permanent support for Syrian sports and athletes will have positive outcomes.
Al-Khatib also explicitly expressed gratitude to the Syrian president for his full support for Syrian national football team.
The move, however, has outraged many Saudi people who did not expect the two players, particularly Somah who plays for popular Saudi club Al-Ahli, to send messages of appreciation to the Syrian president.
Many Saudi social media users have since harshly slammed the two players for their pro-Assad remarks.
Due to his life in self-exile as well membership in a Saudi football club, Somah may be viewed as a dissident of the Syrian government, and this is a point which the Syrian government and Football Federation are completely aware of. However, they decided to include him in the Syrian national team and this created a strong motivation in Somah to revise his anti-government stances.
He managed to win the hearts of the Syrian nation by scoring a last minute equalizer to Iran, and owes this achievement to Assad’s non-political approach towards national sport.
The Iran-Syria match with such political achievements reveals that national enthusiasm is still alive under the ashes of the civil war underway in the war-torn country.