Syria (+300) vs Australia (-110), Draw (+240)
Qualifying for the 2018 World Cup wasn’t meant to be this difficult for Australia. After finishing third in their group, behind Japan and Saudi Arabia, in the third round of the Asian Football Confederation qualifiers, the Socceroos must now face fellow third-place finisher Syria in a two-leg playoff. Syria has played all their home matches on foreign soil due to the Syrian Civil War, and Malaysia has been selected as their makeshift home for the first leg on October 5th.
The teams will view their third-place finishes very differently. For Australia, it meant missing out on what should have been certain qualification. For Syria, it continues an amazing run that included unexpected wins against Qatar, Uzbekistan, and China, along with an impressive draw against South Korea.
Syria were able to keep their World Cup dream alive thanks to late-game heroics. They scored a 91st-minute winner over Uzbekistan and a 93rd-minute equalizer against both China and Iran. They claimed third-place in their group by the narrowest of margins, only edging Uzbekistan on goal differential.
Despite only losing one game, Australia couldn’t break the top two in their group. Their draws against Thailand and Iraq came back to haunt them in the end, as they wound-up tied with second-place Saudi Arabia on points but losing out on tiebreakers.
Australian soccer is going through a transition phase at the moment. Tim Cahill, their 37-year-old superstar, is finally starting to wind down his career and the younger players aren’t quite ready to step in. There is a great deal of hope for the future, with Swiss-league striker Tomi Juric and Hertha Berlin’s Mathew Leckie poised to take over scoring duties, and Tom Rogic and Jackson Irvine comprising a solid midfield. But right now, the team lacks consistency. They don’t have a definitive starting lineup and their games vary from spectacular to downright embarrassing.
The injury situation adds to the issues. Captain Mile Jedinak will miss the first leg and there are still concerns lingering over defender Trent Sainsbury.
Unless you’re familiar with the Arab leagues, you won’t recognize any of the names on the Syrian national team. But their results so far speak for themselves. The war-torn nation has never qualified for the World Cup and this is by far their best chance yet.
Youngsters Mahmoud Al-Mawas and Omar Kharbin have been their top scorers, both netting three goals in the third round, often at decisive moments in the match.
With high spirits and all the momentum, there’s a decent chance the Syrians could stage an upset against Australia. Bettors can wager on Syria at around +300 (3/1) at any of our recommended sportsbooks, and that’s the side with the most value right now.
Pick: Syria (+300)