Who are the dangermen for Syria against Australia?

Statistics can be a little misleading. A quick look at the table in Group A - in which Syria finished third behind Korea Republic - shows that the Qasioun Eagles do not score many goals.

In the ten games, the team scored just nine goals and conceded eight in the just completed group qualification (Australia, like Syria, finished third in their group and the two teams now meet in playoff make or break World Cup qualifier).

This suggests that there is not much firepower in Syria's ranks and that games involving the West Asians are not exactly thrilling for the neutral.

There is more to this than meets the eye however.

Firas Khatib's goals have been vital for Syria in qualifying.
Firas Khatib's goals have been vital for Syria in qualifying.

In the first seven games in the group, Syria managed to find the back of the net just two times. That is two goals in 630 minutes of football.

And it is true that these were defensive performances with the team happy to cede possession, get men behind the ball and hit on the counter. Against Korea Republic in September 2016, the Syrians had the ball a third of the game.

In that game, the ‘hosts’ - playing in Malaysia for security reasons -- were happy with the point and the tactics reflected that strategy.

These were not exciting games for the neutral and against so-called stronger teams, Syria looked to frustrate and slow the game down as much as possible.

Had the dismal goal-scoring record continued for the final three games then it would have been curtains but while there were two goals in the first seven games, there were seven in the final three.

This was partly down to the need for victory. Syria played a little higher up the pitch but were still playing primarily on the counter.

In the penultimate game against Qatar, they had 44% of possession and ran out 3-1 winners.

Omar Khribin heads into the games with the Caltex Socceroos in excellent form.
Omar Khribin heads into the games with the Caltex Socceroos in excellent form.

Perhaps a bigger reason for the increasing goals for column was the return of some serious firepower. As star forwards Omar Al Soma and Firas Khatib have become available for selection, the goals have started to flow.

Syria had chances in the first seven games but just did not convert. Now it is different. More opportunities are created and more goals scored.

Al Soma is one of the hottest strikers in Asia at the moment. He scored the injury-time goal that earned Syria a 2-2 draw in Iran in the final game of Group A.

And for the showdown with the Caltex Socceroos, Omar Khribin is also in great form. His hat-trick helped Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia to a 4-0 win over Persepolis of Iran in the semi-final first leg of the 2017 AFC Champions League.

Barring a second leg miracle, Al Hilal is set for a first final appearance since 2014.

The expectation is that Syria will trust in their striking talent to get a goal or two against Australia but will focus on keeping things tight in the first leg.

The team that doesn’t score has found its shooting boots.