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Syria calls player who rallied opposition home

Damascus (AFP) – Firas al-Khatib, once the pillar of Syria’s national team before joining the opposition, was Sunday called into the squad for 2018 World Cup qualification matches.

The 33-year-old forward, who hails from the central city of Homs, nicknamed the capital of the uprising that set off Syria’s six-year war, is now on a contract with Al-Kuwait Sports Club in the Gulf emirate.

In July 2012, a year after the start of the Syria war, Khatib, who was then considered to be Syria’s best player ever, vowed he would not play for the national team as long as civilians were bombed.

But in January he told reporters that if he were called in he would “accept naturally because it would be an honour for a sportsman to represent his country and his team”.

The technical head of the national team announced Sunday the list of players who are due to take part in games later this month.

Khatib was on the list to play on March 23 against Uzbekistan and on March 28 match against South Korea.

There was no immediate reaction from the footballer.

But a source from the Al-Kuwait club said Khatib has yet to receive formal notification and that he was “still thinking” about his next move.

Syrian Football Federation vice president, Fadi Debbas, told AFP last month that authorities would provide Firas with security if he were to rejoin the team.

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