Omar Khribin is Syria talisman vs. Socceroos in AFC World Cup playoff
A quick look at Syria's goals-for column in the third round of 2018 AFC World Cup qualification would not give Australia coach Ange Postecoglou any reason to lose too much sleep.
After all, with the Syrians scoring just nine times in 10 games, the Socceroos should be able to keep their playoff opponents at bay over the two legs on Oct. 5 and 10.
But there is more to the strike force that meets the eye, and much of that is down to Omar Khribin.
The Al Hilal striker is in great form at the moment. If Australia are to progress past this test and earn a final playoff against CONCAFAF's fourth-placed team in November, they will have to be wise to his wiles.
The 23-year-old provided a timely reminder of his talents last week. Not many strikers manage a hat trick in the semifinals of the AFC Champions League (ACL), but then, not many strikers are like the Al Hilal hotshot.
The former Al Wahda marksman could just be ready to have the spell of his life. If he can shoot his club to a first-ever ACL title, he will become a hero for one of Asia's biggest teams. Al Hilal are desperate for continental success in the here and now, rather than the past.
With a 4-0 first-leg win over Persepolis of Iran, the Riyadh giants are surely going to the final. If Shanghai SIPG are the opponents, then he will be able to measure himself against Hulk. The Syrian may not be found wanting.
How he took all three goals last week showed his capabilities. The first was a delightful header. There was the tall striker peeling off the back of red-clad defenders at the far post to find a little space to head home across the diving goalkeeper. Anticipation, composure and technique were all in evidence.
In the second half, the Damascus-born marksman grabbed a real poacher's goal. Hanging on the shoulder of the last defender, when a low ball came across from the right, Khribin came alive. Once again, he attacked the space, found a yard and just slotted the ball home from close range with the opposition once again left to look on in admiration.
Yet, he probably saved the best for last. Picking up possession far from the Persepolis goal, Khribin advanced and despite the close attention of two men in red shirts, fired home a low shot from outside the area.
The celebrations from the Saudi team were all about how they had put nine and a half toes in the final of Asia's biggest club competition. Yet, part of it should have been about how Al Hilal have a striker who is one of the best in Asia.
Forwards from the western reaches of the continent don't always get the recognition they deserve. That is just the way it is with little international attention placed on leagues in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the region. This may be about to change.
But there is more to his game than just goals. He likes to drop deep and create openings for others. For example, in Syria's crucial 3-1 win over Qatar on Aug. 31, the reported $11 million that Al Hilal paid Al Dhafra of the United Arab Emirates in June -- after an impressive loan spell at the club -- seemed a bargain.
Not only did he help himself to two goals in the game, but he made a number of chances for his teammates. One of those players who seems to have more time than others, Khribin was by some distance the best player on the pitch. It helps that talented attackers Firas Al Khatib and Omar Al Soma have returned to the national team fold.
This not only takes some of the offensive burden off the still-young shoulders of this sharp shooter, but means that he has more space and sometimes fewer defenders to work with. Their movement and skills also give him more options when he receives the ball.
September was a special month for Omar Khribin for both club and country. If his form continues, then October could be even more so, but then comes November.
If he keeps it up, November may not just mean an appearance in the final of the ACL. It could mean a World Cup showdown with the fourth-placed nation from CONCAFAF, at the expense of the reigning Asian champions. Australia need to keep all eyes open.
Asian expert John Duerden is the author of Lions and Tigers: Story of Football in Singapore and Malaysia.Twitter: @JohnnyDuerden.