Sharjah: Prolific Syrian striker Omar Al Soma is full of confidence ahead of his first AFC Asian Cup, declaring his side capable of mixing it with any of the other 23 teams in the United Arab Emirates.
Alongside 2017 AFC Player of the Year Omar Khribin, the Al Ahli hitman helped Syria to within 180 minutes of a historic qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, with only a narrow playoff defeat to Australia ending their campaign.
Speaking ahead of his side’s opening match against Palestine at Sharjah Stadium on Sunday, Al-Soma revealed his belief that his are capable of becoming a force in their first AFC Asian Cup since 2011.
“That was a big match (against Australia), and everyone knows there are a lot of differences between then and now,” he told the-AFC.com. “We are convinced that we are a strong team, especially in terms of fitness, and we are convinced that we can play against any team in Asia.”
“Everyone knows who Omar Khribin is, and he won the AFC Player of the Year in 2017. Everyone knows him, but all of our players will be very dangerous for other teams in this tournament.”
More than 100 goals at club level in less than four years have made Al Soma a household name in the Asian football world, but opportunities to shine on the international stage have been few and far between.
Now, set to appear in a Continental championship for the first time since the 2008 AFC U-19 Championship, the three-time Saudi Professional League top scorer is eager to impress.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “It’s my first time in a such a tournament and it’s very special to be here in the Emirates, which is a country I like very much.”
“We have a lot of Syrian fans here and I’m really excited to begin the tournament and perform for your fans.”
The opening fixture against Palestine is the first of two West Asian ‘derbies’ against close neighbours, with a match against Jordan to follow in Al Ain on Thursday.
Al Soma acknowledges a high level of familiarity with his side’s early opponents, but believes Syria remains the strongest side of the trio.
“These countries (Palestine and Jordan) are very similar in terms of our style of play, in terms of our fighting spirit, but maybe we are a little bit better because we reached the World Cup qualification playoff,” he declared.
“They will certainly be very good matches and derby matches for our region.”
Meanwhile, Palestine captain and veteran defender Abdallatif Al Bahdari has declared his side will leave nothing behind in the pursuit of success in the United Arab Emirates.
The 34-year-old, who appeared in all three matches of Palestine’s winless debut on the Continental stage in Australia four years ago, spoke of his side’s desire to fulfill Palestinian ambitions.
“Participating in this tournament is a dream for every Asian player,” he said. “As the captain of the Palestinian team, I can tell you on behalf of my teammates – we will do our best to make our people around the world proud and raise the Palestinian flag high.
“We know the challenges we are facing and we tried to prepare ourselves as much as we can to deliver a great performance.”
Al Bahdari is admirer of Syria’s star attacking duo, but remains confident of producing a strong performance on opening day.
“Our brothers from Syria have some of the best players in Asia, who we all respect, such as Omar Al-Soma and Khrbin and we are prepared to deliver a great game with them.”
Source : AFC Asian Football Confederation Website