Australia, beware: Syria star Omar Kharbin is on fire

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

FOX Sports Asia Football Editor Gabriel Tan believes Australia should ignore Omar Kharbin at their own peril when they meet Syria in the fourth round of Asian qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

It is – in almost every way – the archetypal “David v Goliath” clash.

In one corner are Australia, ever-presents at the last three World Cups and boasting the likes of Tim Cahill, Mathew Ryan and Aaron Mooy in their ranks, looking to make amends for a number of disappointing displays in previous rounds of qualifying and book their place at Russia 2018.

In the other corner are Syria, who usually take up headlines in ‘World News’ and ‘Current Affairs’ sections in newspapers rather than the ‘Sports’ section, but are somehow still in the running to qualify for their first-ever World Cup.

On paper, and despite their fairytale run thus far, it seems unthinkable that the minnows could defeat the giants.

But, in this instance, it could just happen. Because the minnows have a giant of their own: Omar Kharbin.

Standing over six feet tall by the old imperial system of measurement, and as strongly-built as the Arabian oryx native to Syria and other parts of the peninsula, Kharbin is as fine a physical specimen as they come.

Strong in the air, almost impossible to outmuscle and with a decent turn of pace, the Damascus native’s attributes fit every bit of a modern-day footballer.

And it also helps that he is pretty good at the game itself.

Still only 23, Kharbin has been plying his trade overseas from 2013 in Iraq and United Arab Emirates, but it has been his latest port of call in Saudi Arabia where he has truly emerged as a star of Asia.

Since joining Al Hilal at the start of this year, he has already notched nine goals in 13 Saudi Professional League appearances, along with a further seven in the AFC Champions League.

His last outing for Al Hilal last week provided a perfect illustration of just how complete a forward he is developing to be, as he notched a perfect hat-trick in a 4-0 win over Persepolis in Champions League semi-finals.

The first was a classic striker’s goal as he cleverly found space at the far post before making no mistake with a downward header past Alireza Beiranvand.

Then, he again did well to break free inside the box before finding the back of the net with the deftest of first-time finishes on his left foot.

And, with a minute remaining, he capped things off with a fine individual effort, receiving possession just inside the opposition half and dancing around a couple of defenders before lashing a right-footed strike into the bottom corner.

Of course, Australia’s defenders will undoubtedly believe they are good enough to keep Kharbin quiet.

After all, they have come up against far more-illustrious opponents.

Trent Sainsbury may only have made on appearance on loan at Inter Milan but he spent almost every day training against the likes of Mauro Icardi and Ivan Perisic.

Aziz Behich, on the books of Turkey’s Bursapor, has come up against Robin van Persie, Nani and Wesley Sneijder in recent years, while Bailey Wright has plenty of experience from England’s second-tier Championship.

But, this is also the same Socceroos side that were expected to comfortably seal automatic qualification, only to find themselves still 360 minutes away from booking their ticket to Russia when Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Korea Republic are all already through.

Complacency has been an issue for Ange Postecoglou’s charges and, in the third round of qualifiers, they failed to win having taken the lead in three of their four draws.

Obviously, Postecoglou will do his utmost to ensure his charges do not take things easy against Syria, but it is worthwhile noting that this also is not a Socceroos backline of yesteryear brimming with determination and a take-no-prisoners approach.

There is no longer a Lucas Neill or Craig Moore-type at the back, or even a Mark Schwarzer, making sure none of their defensive colleagues switch off for even a second.

This is an Australian defence that has shown several times throughout qualifying that they can be exploited, and Syria have just the man capable of doing so.

A young Omar in action for Syria back in 2012, the year he won his first cap.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to who wants it more. 90 minutes in the neutral venue of Malaysia’s Hang Jebat Stadium this Thursday, and then another 90 at Stadium Australia in Sydney on October 10.

After all has been said and done, it is hard to refute that Australia should be able to see off Syria if they show the necessary desire and play to the best of their abilities.

But, while it may be last-chance saloon for the Socceroos to reach Russia 2018, it is more like only-chance saloon for the Syrians as they could never get a better chance to take their place amongst the world’s elite.

And if there is one man who have no shortage of hunger to lead his country to glory, as well as the ability to actually do so, it is Kharbin.