Syria rebel flags banned, ‘Free Syria’ banner confiscated from World Cup play-off match
Prior to the game at the ANZ Stadium in Sydney, signs were placed at the entrance indicating which flags fans were permitted to display at the ground for the Russia 2018 play-off second leg, which Australia won 2-1 to advance 3-2 on aggregate.
As civil war ravages Syria, different flags are used by the Syrian government and rebels: the red, white and black tricolor with two central green stars, used by the government of President Bashar Assad; and the green, white and black tricolor with three central red stars, used by the Free Syrian Army.
The only two flags permitted for entry into the match on Tuesday were the flag used by the Assad government and the Australian flag, whereas the Free Syrian Army was included as a forbidden flag.
Prior to the game, Syrian and Australian fans gathered outside the ground where supporters were photographed jovially mixing and some placed small Australian flags on a larger Syrian flag in an apparent show of support for the country.
However, Syrian refugees in Australia attending the game claimed that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) did not allow them into the match with Syrian opposition flags.
Inside the ground, a group in the Australian section of the ground unfurled a smuggled banner with the words ‘Free Syria’, a revolutionary slogan, which was confiscated by stewards.
FIFA laws dictate that banners bearing political statements are prohibited at football matches held under its auspices.
On the pitch, a late Tim Cahill header in the 109th minute gave Australia the win, adding to his earlier goal to cancel out an Omar Al Somah goal after only six minutes.
The result meant the end of an improbable dream for war-torn Syria to qualify for a World Cup despite the devastating ongoing conflict which forces the national team to play its home matches in Malaysia.