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Asian Football Confederation Cup
Asian Football Confederation Cup

Al-Ittihad win boosts the prestige of Syrian football

(Dp-news -Sana)

Aleppo-based Al-Ittihad won the Asian Football Confederation Cup championship in November, becoming only the second Syrian team to do so, after Damascus's Al-Jaish won the title in 2004. The win came two months before the Asia World Cup begins in Qatar, where at least three members of the Aleppan club team are in contention to be selected for Syria's national squad.

Al-Ittihad won the AFC final against the Kuwaiti league champions Al-Qadsia in a tense penalty shoot-out. Upon return to Syria, thousands of jubilant fans welcomed the team home at Aleppo's airport.



As one of Syria's oldest and best-supported clubs, the win will help build pride in Syria's national sport, which has been hit by recent match-fixing allegations and is traditionally overshadowed by the football giants of the major European leagues. But commentators also express concern that the lack of money invested in Syrian football could hamper future successes.

On November 14, President Bashar al-Assad visited the football club's headquarters in Aleppo to offer the team and the staff his congratulations. Syrian Prime Minister Mohammad Naji Otri called the victory "an achievement which brought back the splendor of Syrian football". Al-Ittihad's Romanian coach, Tita Valeriu, credited the "youthful spirit" of his young lineup, which won despite the absence of several more experienced players who were out on injuries.

The success was no huge surprise. Even though Kuwait's national team recently trounced Syria 3-0 in a friendly match played in preparation for the Asian Cup, the Syrian domestic league is still seen as stronger than Kuwait's, with a superior record in AFC competitions.

Despite failing to win any silverware since 2006's Syrian Cup, Al-Ittihad remains one of the league's most successful teams, having won the domestic title six times since its inception in 1966.
Though significant, the win is less remarkable than it appears to be on first inspection, however. The AFC Cup is not the most prestigious of tournaments. It represents the second tier of Asian club football, behind the much higher quality AFC Champions League, where teams from the South Korean and Japanese leagues dominate.

Nevertheless, the win is a positive sign for Syrian football, Mahmoud Karkoura, sports writer for the private daily Al-Watan newspaper, argued.

"When Al-Ittihad does well it means that Syrian football is doing well," he told Syria Today. "Ittithad is an old club and since the 1970s it has been one of the biggest contributors of players to the national team."

The development of young players in particular, Karkoura said, will be good news for the national team as it seeks to build its ranks going forward. But much needs to change before Syrian clubs can begin to compete at the level of the AFC Champions League, he added, and before the Syrian national team can become a force on the world football stage. Put bluntly, Syrian football is badly in need of money.

"We need to change the whole investment system," Karkoura said. "Instead of being under control of the Syrian Football Association, we need international or private companies to invest in the Syrian league.

"We also need highly qualified specialists in coaching, training and so on, but the most important point is money."

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